I’ve had conversations with teenagers about what it was like being a teenager back in the day. We couldn’t just send a message on WhatsApp to see who is around and up for going to the cinema. We’d have to agree beforehand on a time and place to meet, and then actually be there at the pre-agreed time and place. If one of us wasn’t there, it wasn’t easy to get hold of them straight away, unless one was happy with spending one’s pocket money on a payphone, and that’s if there happened to be one at the agreed place. You just had to wait, without knowing if your friend was stuck in traffic on the bus or was held up for some other reason. You and the other group members present might, after being more than patient, crack on with your pre-planned activity and leave the meeting point without your friend.
I sound a bit like Olubunmi’s (Temi Majekodunmi) mother, who also knows how relatively easy things are (in some ways) for teenagers today. The Life of Olu is, it can be reasonably assumed, set in the pre-pandemic world: there’s no talk of Zoom meetings or ‘virtual learning environments’. He lives a varied life, having to put up with awkward conversations with people he simply doesn’t get on with at school, whilst having to knuckle down at home on account of his ambitious mother, who wants him to commit to his academic studies, and has banned him from watching television during the school week, to the point of occasionally putting her hand on the back of the TV set to feel if it is warm.
There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments in this show, thanks to Olubunmi’s observations on life, as well as the occasional display of naivety: a suggested online method of stimulating beard growth is taken far too seriously, and Olu, as he is commonly known amongst his peers, has no boundaries when it comes to sharing details of various aspects of his upbringing. He and his mother had to join a different parish after it no longer became feasible for them to continue attending their church for reasons that were not their fault at all. There’s no father at home, at least not anymore, and the split was so acrimonious that on the one occasion Olu’s father gave him some money, Olu’s mother took it off him and put it in the church collection the following Sunday.
Majekodunmi puts some hard work into his performance, breaking into song and dance more than once. There’s a critical incident of sorts that quickly changes what was quite a rowdy audience (for all the right reasons) into a reflective one – what happens to Olu is hardly surprising and has been portrayed on stage by black actors many times before, but even seasoned theatregoers will find the dramatization and recollection of events an uncomfortable watch.
At forty-five minutes long, it could do with some lengthening, or it could work as a companion piece to another short play, as a double-bill, to (hopefully) ensure good audience figures for future productions. It’s a work in progress, and the show’s brisk pace suits the youthful vigour of a teenager with ambition and an active mind. With just a chair and a schoolbag as props (there was a time, admittedly, when my reviews would have said something along the lines of the set design being ‘simple but effective’), the play relies on the art of storytelling. Whether in classroom scenes or at home with his mother, it’s easy to forget that Majekodunmi is on the stage on his own, and there isn’t an ensemble playing other pupils and members of staff. An assured and sharp-witted performance.
Review by Chris Omaweng
‘I mean I’m basically a man now… I’ve got pubic hair do you wanna see!?’
Navigating teenage life is hard when you’re on the cusp of manhood(sort of). Now imagine having to decide between a packet of Monster Munch or a carton of Sun Exotic before bossman kicks you out of his shop for taking too long. Olu’s got a lot on his plate; no TV on weeknights, no idea how to talk to his crush Karina and no facial hair in sight…yet. Welcome to Olu’s world; a world beyond the walls of the Roundwood Estate filled with dreams of getting into Oxford University and Kelly Rowland.
Cast & Creative
Writer & Perfomer: Temi Majekodunmi
Director: Jesscia Mensah
Lighting & Sound: Jonathan Chan
Poster Desgin: Denis Ntege
Fight Director: Kevin Mccurdy
Associate Director: Mandi Chivasa