The Beat

Go See | The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives

Lola Shoneyi’s bestselling novel is brought to life on the London stage in this ambitious, funny, witty and poignant play.

A show of hilarity and intrigue, tragedy and karma (a big theme in many a Nollywood films), the play revolves around Baba Segi a wealthy trader who lives in a mansion, his four wives and many children. The story  however, centres on Bolanle, his youngest and newest wife, not that he needs another. Bolanle unlike his other wives, is educated, a graduate, who has no need for an old man like Baba Segi but believes, against her better judgement, that marriage to him will bring her security and refuge to hide a secret she fears has ruined her prospects in the eyes of the world. Baba Segi is a simple man that offers  a life less complicated, with the comfort of riches and wealth that can serve as a cloak from her dark past. But ultimately, secrets are meant to be revealed and the revelation of Bolanle’s secret reveals the deceit in Baba Segi’s own house, from his wives, that brings his perfectly polygamous world crashing down around him.

From the modest set to the dramatics that unfold this is a spectacular play set in  modern day Nigeria still shrouded in the simplistic ways of old; common sense often lose out to religious and traditional beliefs. Basic plot lines of jealousy and envy enhance the more sinister and murderous outcomes. The characters take it in turn to play multiple characters without losing the comedic timing or the audience in the layers of narratives at play; misogyny and the juxtaposition of power in a marriage, solidarity between women and consequence of discord. The music is provided by drums  and a harmonious cast who sing Yoruba songs and give an astoundingly good rendition of Don’t be Cruel by Bobby Brown (I think)- its really freaking ingeniously done.

Whilst there is comedy in the narrative, the frank story line does not go amiss in the melee of sexual simulations and intrigue of a polygamous Nigerian family. Sex; the way women want to have it and the brutish exploits of a man without any inkling or finesse into what really pleases his wives, is an important arc in the story. One that becomes central towards the the end. The pace is such that it reveals true talent of the characters – the switch from happiness to tragedy to tomfoolery and back again, which sometimes made me fear that the comedy might waylay the narrative- especially the underlying theme of what it means to be a woman in a traditional Nigerian household: seen and not heard, a possession of a man- first her father then her husband, without whom her life has no meaning- but fortunately this did not happen. Each character holds their own but none more so than Baba Segi’s wives, and in equal measure, Baba Segi himself, played by Patrice Naiambana.

This is an enjoyable play that delves  into the atypical polygamous family and brings to the fore some real life issues faced by many Nigerian women striving to be relevant in a patriarchal society. It also plays up sexual orientation and taboos still existent today. You simply must go see it before it leaves the Arcol Theatre on the 21st of July… yes six days time.