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Asò by Imagiphoria Studios at Streatham Space Project

TK Soyebo’s (Reece Morant) challenge to his fellow African Timilehin Ajayi (Omolade Wey) to dance reminded me of a sermon I once heard from an older Nigerian clergyman. In his youth, he told the congregation (which was gathered in church for a wedding – I’m not a fanatic), one Nigerian naira was worth two pounds. How his people danced – their currency was stronger than sterling. Then sterling reached parity with the naira.

Asò by Imagiphoria StudiosStill the Nigerians danced. It wouldn’t last, they said. Normality will soon resume, it’s just how the exchange rates go, swinging like a pendulum. Later, one pound was worth two naira, and still they danced. At the time of the wedding he was officiating, one pound was worth 234 naira. Still, they danced. The point of saying all this was that the happy couple should always take time to enjoy life, however bleak the circumstances. (At the time of writing, one pound is worth 503 naira. Presumably, they are still dancing, albeit with masks on.)

I caught an earlier version of Asò as an online production: here, having been fleshed out to be long enough to justify an interval, and in front of a live audience, some of the performances are, truth be told, hammed up to the hilt, particularly as Philips Francis doubles up both as Mediator (to an informal debate he has called between TK and Timilehin, and as various characters external to the discussion.

But it was the right approach – the exaggerated theatricals gave the audience something to smile and laugh at, whilst portraying a kind of parenting style that some might describe as tough love. To others, however, some of it crosses firmly over into child abuse. It seemed to resonate with some of the audience, and of course, it’s not only African parents out there that can be challenging – a white teenager on my bus home after the show was on the phone to a friend, terrified of the repercussions of getting back on the wrong side of an agreed return time of 10:00pm.

The versatility in Francis’ performances seemed utterly boundless. He is just as convincing as a student assertively barking at his fellow students to drink shots as a kind of punishment as he is as TK’s mother, breathing with the assistance of a supply of oxygen and giving some final words of advice to her flesh and blood before she pops her clogs. In some respects, the play was enlightening, especially to those of us who happen to be non-African – I had no idea, for instance, that in African culture, using the left hand has no place at all. Receiving food or money from a left hand just isn’t the done thing.

Flashbacks are created well, sometimes by freezing or ‘pausing’ the debate for a reconstruction of an earlier memory. A late flashback to TK and Timilehin’s (separate) parents’ evenings proved to be a hoot with the audience, with TK’s father aghast at the assertion his son was involved in a fight. Was he paying tens of thousands of pounds in fees to a public school just for TK to aspire to be like Mike Tyson? Overall, the show was challenging as much as it was entertaining, as thought-provoking as much as it was hilarious. Full marks, then, for a production that demonstrates the two faces of theatre, sorrow and joy, with confidence and charm.

5 Star Rating

Review by Chris Omaweng

Asò, set in a British University hall and it focuses on three students, Tokunbo (TK), Timilehin and Mediator as they help Mediator with their dissertation paper, to measure how African. As TK and Timilehin argue their definition of African and what it means to be African, both characters relate their decision on their experiences and their reactions from society and family. It asks the question of ‘How African makes you African enough?’



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