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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Pandora's Box
Arcola Theatre   May 2012

It can't be just coincidence that two plays about British Nigerians visiting Nigeria open in the same week. The issue of which place is 'home' clearly matters to British people of African descent, and along with Belong at the Royal Court, Ade Solanke's new play speaks directly to those concerns. 

In her drama a mother brings her teenage son to visit relatives in Lagos, but with the hidden agenda of enrolling him in a tough Nigerian school to get him away from the dangers and temptations of London's streets. 

Once there, however, she wavers in part because she sees that he will be as much an outsider in Africa as he is in white Britain, in part because a generation ago her mother left a daughter behind when she moved to London and the alienation and resentments still fester, and in part just because she loves the boy and doesn't want to leave him. 

The play consists essentially of a string of debates and demonstrations of the good and bad points about either alternative. The boy is rude and spoiled and on the cusp of joining a gang, but the school is Dickensian. One of its students admits that it has helped him, but there is a real risk of destroying the bond between mother and son. 

Even members of the extended Nigerian family can't agree on whether the boy should stay, and so every facet of the problem is presented for our consideration. 

The playwright, director Ola Animashawun and the cast build up real suspense about what the mother's ultimate decision will be, and leave open the question of whether it is 'right'. 

This is so very much an issue play addressed to a specific audience that it is difficult to judge by conventional theatrical standards. It is filled with weak jokes and stereotyped characters, and yet the dumbest gags and broadest caricatures generate the most and warmest laughter. 

The writing is frequently awkward, the direction clunky and the performances startlingly uneven, but the importance of the issue and the earnestness of the playwright carry the play over its rough spots. 

This is not a play only for black audiences, though obviously it speaks most directly to them. Even those looking at it from the outside, as it were, will learn and feel the importance of the questions it raises.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Pandora's Box - Arcola 2012  

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