BWW Review: THE HIGH TABLE, Bush Theatre
Love was in the air at the Bush Theatre this Valentine's Day with the opening of Temi Wilkey's new play The High Table. A heartfelt drama that spans generations of a Nigerian family, this is a confident debut.
When Tara announces her engagement to Lisa to her parents, things don't go according to plan and the relationship is called an "abomination". However, this sets off a chain of events that leads to Tara's ancestors convening in the afterlife to decide whether or not they'll bless the marriage.
The three ancestors - Adebisi, Babatunde, and Yetunde - debate the values and expectations of their culture, circling with frustration until Teju arrives. Tara's uncle and only recently deceased, Teju introduces a third, brief narrative in the second act that adds a greater depth to the present-day scenes.
This spiritual element truly bolsters Wilkey's script - the older values that dictate the present are challenged two-fold, and clichés about the older generations being the most conservative are done away with. José Tevar's lighting and Enrico Aurigemma's sound are essential in establishing the mood of these afterlife scenes and create a liminal setting.
Issues of queerness, homophobia and diaspora are all balanced throughout the show, emphasising that though gay marriage has been accepted in recent years there is still more work to be done. It is repeated several times that in Nigeria gay people are still frequently beaten and imprisoned because of their sexuality. Given Northern Ireland had its first same-sex marriage just this week, Wilkey's play feels timely indeed.
Ibinabo Jack steals the show with her dry humour and delivery as both Leah and Adebisi. Jumoké Fashola and David Webber also help realise the sharp comedy in their roles as both Tara's mother and father respectively and as her ancestors.
One wishes for a little more of Fashola's Mosun to explore the mother-daughter relationship with Tara, but her performance as Yetunde is heartfelt and reminds us that we always have our own stories of love and loss.
Cherrelle Skeete as the frustrated Tara is also brilliant, poignantly trapped between respect and following her own desires. The emotional weight of the show falls mostly on Skeete and Webber, and their chemistry is truly touching.
Daniel Bailey's direction expertly guides audiences through the show, creatively balancing the three narratives. Only occasionally does the pace falter, but the strong performances, spiced with emotion and comedy, maintain the audience's interest.
The mood of the evening roves from the audience laughing so loud that actually hearing the actors can be problematic to a serious silence broken only by quiet sobs. The shift between the two can happen in seconds.
From the top of Natasha Jenkins's set, Mohamed Gueye's percussion forms a sacred, rhythmic frame to the show. The High Table asks audiences to think about what it means to love and be loved, and to understand that the rules that dictate who we should love have murky origins. It's a glorious and engaging show that warmly announces a promising new voice in British theatre.
Production pictures: Helen Murray.