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The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives review at Arcola Theatre, London – ‘impressive storytelling’

The cast of The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives at the Arcola Theatre, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton

The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives, adapted deftly by Rotimi Babatunde from Lola Shoneyin’s bestselling novel, is an acutely funny piece of theatre.

Wealthy Nigerian polygamist Baba Segi has seven children with his first three wives, but it’s his acquisition of the fourth — beautiful but haunted graduate Bolanle — that sets off a series of events that brings the patriarch’s world crashing down.

Told mostly via a series of monologues, the props, set and costume, designed by Ultz, are kept to the bare minimum in Femi Elufowoju Jr’s production.

The music shines, with excellent on-stage drumming, and the choir-like Yoruba singing from the ensemble never feels forced. The actors play multiple roles, or the same role over a period of years, or both; characters break the fourth wall and the play also leaps back and forth in time. It’s testament to Elufowoju Jr’s slick direction that this doesn’t get confusing.

Laden with frank discussions of sex, the play’s relentless humour means its shifts into tragedy sometimes feel flat, despite the strong performances.

The dramatic elements of the play also slip further into Nollywood territory as time goes on, and while the plot twists and turns are a lot of fun, they feel progressively predictable. Bolanle’s closing monologue was also bit too on-the-nose for my taste.

However the four actors who make up the parade of wives play the roles brilliantly, and the ensemble also holds their own. Patrice Naiambana as patriarch Baba Segi has faultless comic timing, bringing complexity and warmth to a character who so easily could be little more than the butt of everyone’s jokes.

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Verdict
Impressively fun storytelling from a strong cast, with equally strong comic timing
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