A Powerful London Play Responds to Boko Haram: Olu

olu play

The cast rehearses scenes from Olu.

Hidden in a cul de sac, was The Cockpit Theater, which on this particular cold, holiday-break-night was promoting “Theatre in the Pound” an award winning evening that showcases plays from emerging artists, directors, and writers. Unfamiliar to London’s theatre scene, I decided to give this one-pound-entry event a chance.

 

The evening was packed with diverse themes, actors, and plots. One play that particularly stood out for me was ‘Olu’, written and performed by Ese Ighorae and directed by her fiancée Joss Lacey. The plot revolves around a British-Nigerian schoolgirl named Olu, whose father sends her from England to boarding school in Nigeria, after her grades start to slip. Unaccustomed to Nigerian way of life and conditioned to her Western upbringing, she struggles to fit into her new environment, particularly when it comes to socializing with the rest of the all female student body.

 

Clashing cultures and beliefs leave her unable to identify with her schoolmates. The plot unravels during a class presentation in which Olu recites her homework assignment, a poem in which she shares her homesickness and yearn for her English life. Upon hearing her poem, the popular girls in the class find insult in Olu’s lack of integration and become frustrated by the negative representation of Nigeria and the lack of foreign understanding and appreciation of the country.

 

The climax of the play deciphers when the teacher asks them to debate their opinions in a respectful manner. The back and forth dialogue was rich, powerful, conceptual and insightful. The chemistry between the actors and the intensity of the lines they performed were equally strong, I was at the edge of my seat. By the end of their debate I was left feeling optimistic. I imagined that the relationship between the schoolgirls would improve, now that each had expressed their feelings. However, the end of the play also left the audience with a feeling of uncertainty for Olu. Will her situation improve?

 

After a brief Q+A with the actors, the writer and director, I discovered what I had watched, was just an excerpt of a longer piece by the same title, “Olu”. The writer Igborae keenly explained that her Nigerian ancestry and her feelings about the kidnapping of over 200 girls by Boko Haram fueled the inspiration behind the play. The devastating event greatly impacted her, it lead to her writing “Olu” along with starting a campaign called London Cares : Bring Back Our Girls, a way for her to bring awareness to this tragedy. Ighorae’s careful representation of cultural relativism and politically provocative dialogue on north-south relations come to life on stage, as the thrilling cast put on a powerful performance.

 

Luckily, for those who missed this well-performed excerpt, the full length play should be out in theatre this year. For more information, check out their Facebook page : London Cares Bring Back Our Girls.

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