Set in modern day Nigeria, The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives is a novel by Lola Shoneyin. Rotimi Babatunde’s adaptation is vibrant, raucous and raw. Nicola Acquah reviews:

Bolanle (Marcy Dolapo Oni) is a young university graduate with a secret – she believes that the only way to start a new life is to marry Baba Segi (Patrice Naiambana), a rich yet oafish man who already has three wives and seven children. Set in modern day Nigeria, The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives is originally a novel by debut author Lola Shoneyin. Award-winning playwright Rotimi Babatunde’s adaptation at the Arcola Theatre is vibrant, raucous and raw in delivery.

Secret Lives Baba Segi's Wives Arcola Theatre

Image courtesy of Idil Sukan

Baba Segi is a polygamist who treats his wives like produce to be bartered for and even ‘returned’ if they are not to his satisfaction. The pressures of a patriarchal household causes some of his wives to form alliances, and the woman express how they truly feel about men when none are around,

If it were not for needing the seed to bear children, it would have been better to sit on green plantain!’

As the title suggests, the focus of the play is on the women – their trials & triumphs, their feuds, competitions and, of course, the secret which ties them all together.

Secret Lives Baba Segi's Wives Arcola Theatre

Patrice Naiambana (image courtesy of Idil Sukan)

At first, there are concerns about the blatantly misogynistic beliefs held by Baba Segi, although he alone cannot be blamed. Indeed, he almost functions as a mirror to the patriarchal structures present within the whole world of the play – as one wife, Iya Tope (Christina Oshunniyi) comments,

I was twenty-three years old. My family said I was overripe for marriage and already bordering on decay.’

Fortunately, director Femi Elufowoju, jr successfully uses the production to examine female identity by considering the inevitable results of reducing woman to sex and child-rearing. Bolanle, newly wed, meets her enemies in the first wives of Baba Segi, and spends the rest of the play simply trying to survive. It might be tempting to rely on stereotypes and simply show bitter women who spend their whole time gossiping about each other or tearing one another down. But the text itself serves to make one point clear: the hatred among the women is a result of being compared and pitted against each other from the start.

Secret Lives Baba Segi's Wives Arcola Theatre

Layo-Christina Akinlude (image courtesy of Idil Sukan)

The show does not have a dull moment – the transitions are slick, and the casting wonderful. Diana Yekinni particularly shines in her humorous role as the nurse and meat-seller, but the entire cast fits perfectly together. Yet Bolanle’s relationship with Baba Segi never feels fully fleshed out. A reveal towards the end tells us why she chooses to marry him, but her feelings towards him are inconsistent – coming across as genuinely affectionate at times, but indifferent at others.

Kemi Durosinmi must be applauded for the choreography that serves to solidify our modern-day Nigeria setting but also boldly accentuates the humorous moments within the piece, particularly highly sexualised discussions that run throughout the entire play. For example, the movement and choral arrangement surrounding a scene in which Segi has an orgasm in a doctor’s room leaves the audience not only laughing, but applauding the entire gag. Strong choreographic choices lead to transitions from a car by using movements that quickly deconstruct into stylised dance.

Secret Lives Baba Segi's Wives Arcola Theatre

Image courtesy of Idil Sukan

It’s wonderfully refreshing to be part of a majority Black audience, humbling to hear little pockets of Yoruba used throughout the play, which provided many appreciative chuckles to those who understood the language. Because ultimately, The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives is not only about sexual politics and female alliances. It is about understanding one another (or trying to, anyway). Baba Segi, thinking about Bonlanle’s ordeal, leaves us with these words,

‘Listen to the words she doesn’t speak.’

 

 

★★★★☆

The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives runs at the Arcola Theatre until 21 July 2018. For further information, please visit the venue website.