WHAT a joy is The Secret Lives Of Baba Segi’s Wives. It has the lot – sex, humour, music, polygamy and tragedy – wrapped up into a scintillating parcel of just over two hours of entertainment. A cauldron of fun.
Based on Lola Shoneyin’s bestselling 2011 novel, the play shines a light on Nigerian society that to this day is still influenced by rituals of the past, most notably customs and witchcraft. New rubs up against old and sometimes the results are not particularly pleasant.
At the heart of the play is Baba Segi (a marvellous Patrice Naiambana), a giant of a man who rules supreme over his roost of wives and children. He is charming, he is loud, he is a dominant physical presence and he likes his women for breakfast, dinner and any other time besides.
The man thinks he is a sex machine, Nigeria’s answer to lothario Errol Flynn. When he swaggers and booms out loud like a foghorn, you half expect him to start singing James Brown’s Get Up (I Feel Like Being) A Sex Machine. Sex on legs. Really?
There are three wives to begin with, but Baba Segi is never satisfied. He is a greedy so and so – and vain with it. So when he casts his eyes on beautiful, educated and sharp Bolanle (Mary Dolapo Oni), he cannot help himself. She must be his number four.
But in ensnaring her for his harem, he unintentionally triggers the crumbling of the Baba Segi empire as jealousies bubble to the surface, witchcraft is invoked (with unintended consequences) and truths reveal themselves. Truths that do not reflect well on Baba Segi’s manhood. Maybe, he is not the sex god that he thinks he is. Not quite the full Monty he believes he is as he struts around his manor like an arrogant peacock, surrounded by his menagerie of wives and children.
Understandably given Baba Segi’s predilections, the play has an undercurrent of raunchiness. His first three wives are all witnessed cavorting with lovers in scenes that will bring tears of laughter to your eyes. To witness first wife Iya Segi (Jumoke Fashola) astride her lover is worth the ticket price alone as is the scene where Baba Segi provides a sperm sample in a beaker. Explosively uproarious and splendidly choreographed.
Baba’s use of his hand is both extraordinary and evocative – and not in the way you might think.
There is plenty more to this play. The cast are both magnificent and vibrant, multi-casting adeptly. None more so than Naiambana who in one memorable scene plays the part of a manipulative and sleazy taxi driver who picks up Bolanle when she is a tender 15. Mary Dolapo Oni is a vibrant Bolanle whose body rhythm is something to behold.
The music and singing is exceptional, not surprising given the quality of the voices of Fashola and Ayo-Dele Edwards who plays Mama Bolanle. Led by musicians Ayan De First and Usifu Jalloh, the beat of a drum – be it Omele, Apale or Gbedu – is never far away.
You want to dance, sway and swagger like the entire cast. It is only at the end that this seems the right thing to do. Indeed, most people left the auditorium swaying their hips from side to side.
Rotimi Babatunde has done an exceptional job in adapting Shoneyin’s book for the stage. Femi Elufowoju Junior (director and music director), Ayo-Dele Edwards (choral arranger) and Kemi Durosinmi (choreographer) all deserve gold stars as does costume supervisor Shola Ajayi. The array of colours in the clothes and head scarfs would light the bleakest of landscapes.
The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives is sensational, thrilling theatre. Feel good summer fare, a complement to the thrills and spills of the World Cup. To be consumed at any cost (tickets cost from £12).
The Secret Lives Of Baba Segi’s Wives runs until July 21 at the Arcola Theatre, Dalston, London.