Palm Wine & Stout – Sir John Mills Theatre

As Nigeria celebrates 50 years of independence, Eastern Angles turn their attention from rural East Anglia to Africa in Palm Wine & Stout, a Nigerian coming of age story.

A young mixed race British man, Taiye, and his mother are on a journey to Nigeria to meet Taiye’s father and trace his Nigerian ancestry. It’s a quest guided by ancestral spirits and cultural misunderstandings on each side. Tradition, folklore, spirituality and family infighting all conspire to make Taiye’s journey of self discovery a meandering one. As events take a more tragic turn, lives in the UK and Nigeria become more closely entwined and Taiye is forced to confront both his heritage and responsibility.

Author Segun Lee-French has based the play on his own journey of self-awareness and it comes across as a deeply personal account with Lee-French’s poetical background clearly evident in the lyrical script.

In a fast moving production, a multitude of characters flow into and out of Taiye’s life, the streetwise brother, spurned first wife, spiritual aunt, and other extended family members to create a rich tapestry of life. The cast of four – Joe Jacobs, Helen Grady, Zackary Momoh and Antoinette Marie Tagoe – shift swiftly between characters with efficiency, although some work on further defining characters would help as occasionally there is a tendency for characters to merge into one.

Ivan Cutting’s and Kate Chapman’s direction keeps the pace fast and furious, incorporating music and dance to evoke a much larger community on the tiny stage.

It’s an ambitious move away from its traditional core work based on East Anglian life for Eastern Angles and, perhaps, the piece would be stronger if it linked more directly to the region. But as a production it works well and transports the audience on a cold wet Suffolk night to the warmth of Africa.

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