The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives, 5 Stars

The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives
Arcola Theatre
7th June to 21st July 2018

“The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives is a scandalous, engrossing tale of sexual politics and family strife in modern-day Nigeria. Lola Shoneyin’s bestselling novel bursts on to the stage in a vivid adaptation by Caine Award-winning playwright Rotimi Babatunde. Femi Elufowoju, jr directs a multi-talented West African ensemble in the UK premiere production, featuring live Yoruba music, songs and dance.
This exceptional production will be uniquely performed in the round in the Arcola’s main space using an ensemble featuring actor-musicians led by Ayan De First and Usifu Jalloh. At times, the entire ensemble becomes an acoustic band with traditional instruments used including Omele drum, Gbedu drum, Fulani flute, thumb pianos, shekeres, Iya Ilu talking drums, djembes, and Apala drum.
Baba Segi has three wives, seven children, and a mansion filled with riches. But now he has his eyes on Bolanle, a young university graduate wise to life’s misfortunes. When Bolanle responds to Baba Segi’s advances, she unwittingly uncovers a secret which threatens to rock his patriarchal household to the core.”

Review by Mark Banfield, 5 Stars

Based on Lola Shoneyin’s bestselling 2011 novel, the play is set in an enclave of modern-day Nigeria where tribal custom and witchcraft exist aainst rationality and science. The main theme of polygamy in old Africa, it is a far more universal story of the shifting power-play inside a marriage and sexual rivalry  between women. When the youngest and most educated wife, Bolanle (Marcy Dolapo Oni), enters the scene, the other three plot murderous schemes against her, like Macbeth’s witches. This adaptation by the award-winning writer Rotimi Babatunde captures the complicated gender dynamics: his rampant misogyny, their occasional misandry, and the quiet, subversive power they wield inside his household.

The director, Femi Elufowoju Jr, prizes out the text’s  satire and treats the misogynistic characters with an arch, ironic humour. Mercilessly sending up Baba Segi (Patrice Naiambana) as a crude buffoon.

“Men are like yam, you cut them how you like.”

What makes the production so bold is its unabashedly physical treatment of sex: the wives are spotlit in flagrante, grinding themselves on their lovers in a state of ecstasy. But there are bedroom scenes in which Baba Segi is brutishly thrusting legs apart and pawing at pained bodies, and in these moments, the ribald humour plunges into sudden savagery. One scene dramatises Bolanle’s rape at the age of 15 before flipping back to comedy; the same switch follows a child’s sudden death. The shifts from lightness to dark and back again give the performance a dangerous and unpredictable undercurrent.

The staging is stripped back yet inventive, with the lighting and choreography creating their own visual poetry: figures crouched on the floor morph into swaying wheatfields; women swathed in red become the giant, gyrating backside of a sexy street-seller in a lesbian fantasy accompanied  to Yoruba live percussion played on traditional drums adds to the authenticity and intensity of the experience.

The play’s energy never dips and the actors, doubling up repeatedly in their roles, give nuanced, charismatic performances. The effect is nothing short of spectacular.


Photo Credit: Idil Sukan

Title The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives
Performance Dates Thursday 7th June – Saturday 21st July 2018
Monday – Saturday, 7.30pm
Saturday matinees, 3pm
Wednesday 18th July matinee, 3pm
Monday 11th June, Q&A for Directors with Femi Elufowoju jr, 5.45pm
Running time 1 hour 45 minutes

Age guidance Ages 18+, contains strong language, scenes of a sexual nature, flashing/strobe lights, haze, loud noises, depiction of sexual violence
Twitter @arcolatheatre, #TheSecretLives
Author Lola Shoneyin
Script Adaptor Rotimi Babatunde
Direction and Music Femi Elufowoju, jr
Choreography Kemi Durosinmi
Costume Supervisor Shola Ajayi
Production Design ULTZ
Original Music and Lyrics Oyebade Dosunmu
Original Choreography Uche Onah

Baba Segi / Ensemble Patrice Naiambana
Iya Femi / Ensemble Layo-Christina Akinlude
Iya Segi / Ensemble Jumoké Fashola
Iya Tope / Ensemble Christina Oshunniyi
Bolanle / Ensemble Marcy Dolapo Oni
Mama Bolanle / Ensemble Ayo-Dele Edwards
Segi / Ensemble Tania Nwachukwu
Nurse / Ensemble Diana Yekinni
Tunde / Ensemble Ayan De First
Taju / Ensemble Usifu Jalloh

Location Arcola Theatre, 24 Ashwin Street, Dalston, London E8 3DL, 020 7503 1646
How to get there Arcola Theatre is located on Ashwin Street, off Kingsland Road. The nearest stations are Dalston Kingsland and Dalston Junction (on the London Overground). Both connect with Highbury and Islington (on the Victoria and Overground Lines), Whitechapel (on the District and Hammersmith and City Lines) and Stratford (on National Rail and the Central, Jubilee and DLR Lines). Hackney Downs station, ten minutes by train from Liverpool Street, is a 3-minute bus ride on numbers 30 and 56.

Box Office Tickets are available for £12-£26 from and on 020 7503 1646.
Concession tickets are available including £10 tickets for Young Arcola members.
Pay What You Can Tuesdays, in person from 6pm.