Meet Femi Elufowoju JR the dynamic UK/Nigeria playwright & composer
For over 13 years, the British-Nigerian film actor and theatre-maker ran Tiata Fahodzi which is considered to be the premiere African national touring company in the UK.
Most recently, he has achieved success directing the stage version of Lola Shoneyin’s novel “The Secret Lives Of Baba Sege’s Wives” at London’s Arcola Theatre for which he won the Best Director Award Of an Off-West play 2019. The play was restaged for the 2018 edition of Ake Arts and Book Festival in Nigeria which was founded by Shoneyin, the book’s author.
two plays directed by Elofuwoju Jr opened at Arcola Theatre, the first of which is “Hoard” by Bim Adewunmi which ran from May 15th to June 8th and was followed by “The Glass Menagerie” by Tennessee Williams runs till July 13th.
“Hoard” is the first play by Adewunmi, a British-Nigerian journalist who is based in New York. She has written a mix of comedy and drama about three sisters – Rafi (Elizabeth Ita), Ami (Estella Daniels) and Bili (Kemi Durosinmi) – who wrestle with their mother’s refusal to give up a failing business exporting provisions to Nigeria, even when it threatens to split the family to the point of no repair.
Both plays have strong similarities that include an overbearing mother whose worry for her two children’s welfare grinds against their wishes and ambitions. In Hoard, Ellen Thomas is Wura Bakare, the entitled and self-denying mother whose three daughters are now adults in their 20s managing a work/life balance.
Each daughter has developed individualised trauma from the years squeezed into one bedroom on account of their mother’s unchecked accretion. As adults, the two cohabiting elder sisters have adopted a minimalist taste in furnishings for their homes. All the action happens one evening when “Billi” the youngest is invited to dinner with “Brian Burton” her new African-American boyfriend, played by Tyler Fayose as a helplessly cherry and good-natured Californian technician at Google.
Neither the sisters nor the guest is a match for “Wura Bakare” who has turned up unannounced and is on her way back from another shopping trip. We assume her new buys will soon join the hoard. “Wura’s” near-hostile questioning of Brian, her high-mindedness and cutting put-downs of relatives, as well as her children makes for a laugh-fest. Pertinent questions about familial failures and forgiveness are well interrogated but thankfully also well measured, so as not to drain and disenchant the evening at the theatre.
On press night, it was announced by an associate director of Arcola Theatre that a day or two before “Hoard” opened, one of the actors had to drop from the play and was replaced by Estella Daniels who would read from the script. Daniels, it also turns out, is pregnant and showing. Despite holding a script in hand for most of the evening’s performance, Daniels kept any nerves under control and so well the conspicuous sign of unreadiness was but a prop like any other on the stage. But then Daniels is an experienced stage actor who has had prior success working with Elofuwoju Jr in sold-out runs of “Iya Ile (The First Wife)” at London’s Soho Theatre. It was written by Oladipo Agboluaje – a frequent collaborator of Elufowoju Jr and current “playwright in residence” at the UK’s National Theatre.
One effective device used by Elofuwoju Jr in “Hoard” is to have the actors, on occasion, stand on the two edges of the stage next to the first row of seats and project into the stage and audience. This creates a “surround sound” that empathises with the aural quality of the actors’ voices and their lines, thereby enriching the listening experience.