IN BRIEF Expansive family drama confidently argues for acceptance in an ambitious show with drama, heart and humanity
Temi Wilkey’s ambitious, brave and compassionate debut play covers a lot of ground. Tara and her girlfriend Leah are getting married, and the big day is approaching. But Tara’s Nigerian parents didn’t know about the wedding until now- oh, and also the fact that she is a lesbian. All the knee-jerk prejudices come tumbling out – “she doesn’t even look like a man”, “it’s a choice”, etc.
Simultaneously, high above the earth, in an afterlife, a meeting of a council of guidance has been called to decide whether or not to bless this marriage. Three past relatives of Tara gather- but they are missing one. Who is the late arrival, the fourth member of the council, and why does he carry such a disturbing aura with him?
Back on earth, the ensuing upset and pushback from her parents puts a strain on Tara and Leah’s relationship, as they doubt themselves and each other.
Posing intriguing questions along the way, this well-woven play shuttles back and forth between earthly and spiritual locations.
Tara’s need for family at this time is natural and her sadness at its lack is affecting. We see the parents’ opposition gradually unfurl itself as rooted in a protective fear for Tara’s safety, assuming that being gay is the same experience for people in the UK as it is in Nigeria, where intolerance, hatred, blackmail and beatings seem to be the ususal outcomes.
As the descendants’ and contemporary family stories are uncovered, unexpected connections and moving revelations bring about a hopeful ending with a wedding dance that cannot fail to make you smile.
THE HIGH TABLE is sensitively directed by Daniel Bailey (who did another good job with the part-mystical UNKNOWN RIVERS a few months ago at Hampstead), and strongly performed by the entire cast; Cherrelle Skeete brings soul and vulnerability to Tara, Stefan Aegbola makes his journey from victim to spiritual enabler most affecting, and Jumoke Fashola is a powerful and magnetic storyteller. The muscular rhythmic musical interludes, played (and co-composed) by Mohamed Gueye, effectively instil a sense of place and heritage.
Wilkey’s writing is knowing, passionate and human, with canny injections of humour and emotion, lovingly investing her characters with dimension and making a powerful case for “You go want who you go want”.
THE HIGH TABLE plays at the Bush Theatre until March 21. Information and tickets here
THE HIGH TABLE then plays Birmingham Repertory Theatre from March 25 to April 9. Information and tickets here