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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Royal Court Theatre Upstairs   Spring 2012

A black politician in London loses his local race and decides to visit his mother in Nigeria for a holiday. He finds her very involved in local politics there and gets involved himself, rediscovering the energy and commitment that had burned out at home. 

But he's no match for the corruption and downright thuggery of Nigerian life, and realises he's as much an outsider there as he ever felt in white Britain. 

Bola Agbaje's play utilises a fairly contrived plot there are actually several additional levels of complexity and coincidence to make the strong point that Europeanised Africans are not likely to be wholly accepted, or feel that they really belong, in either place. 

Of course that's not a new observation, but Agbaje makes it effectively, and if her play too often brings together too many character types who would not likely ever be in the same room, she does get them all into the play and into our awareness. 

And so, in addition to making its central point, the play advises us that there are second- or third-generation British Africans eager to return to their roots and others repelled by the very idea, that there are Nigerians using money and muscle to increase their personal power and fortune and others seeking ways to reform the country from within, and that there are those more comfortable with their home-grown misery than they would be with 'neo-colonial' help from outside. 

And although all this thesis and message sometimes gets in the way of the human story, the playwright does create and Indhu Rubasingham's production does present the painful experience of people wanting to do good but just not equipped for the task. 

The always reliable Lucian Msamati takes the central character on a touching journey from exhaustion to reinvigoration to discovery of his impotence, and there is strong support from Noma Dumezweni as his completely Anglicised wife, Pamela Nomvete as his committed but officious mother and Ashley Zhangazha as an ambitious young Nigerian.

Gerald Berkowitz

Review - Belong - Royal Court Theatre 2012

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