High Table – Bush Theatre, London

Reviewer: Margarita Shivarova

Writer: Temi Wilkey

Director: Daniel Bailey

High Table is a vibrant production, engaging for the eye, mind and soul that can leave one with a sense of belief in the ability for profound human understanding. In her debut play Temi Wilkey’s skilfully explores in detail the topics of homosexuality, marriage, intergenerational communication, societal norms and the meaning of tradition in a 21st century context. Such plethora of issues and their relation to a fast-pace changing world is in itself a warning to watch out for the writer’s work in the future.

The multi-layered plot revolving around Tara (Cherrelle Skeete) and Leah’s (Ibinabo Jack) wedding and the disapproval of the former’s parents takes the audience on a journey of tracing back family roots, energies and reasons for conservative perspectives. The timeless relevance of a topic like individual life choices makes the audience not only gasp, but also question: What does one owe to their parents? Add a spiritual concept of long dead family relatives contemplating on their blessing of the homosexual wedding in the mix and there is no comfort zone left to lean on.

This is heavily fuelled by the live djembe music piece, albeit incredibly loud at times, the effective lighting and movement particularly during scene transitions between the two worlds. The slightly baffling first scene hits the right spot with several gags that establish the language used. Impeccable performance from Ibinabo Jack in switching between characters with fairly opposing views in a matter of seconds, coupled with her immaculate accent articulation lifts up the play to a very high standard. The need for work on lines and clarity in pronunciation by some of the other actors in instances of arguing stands out, so polishing this would bring an even greater flow throughout the scenes.

A secondary plot driven by Stefan Adegbola’s passionate performance helps compassion find its place in the hearts of David Webber and Ibinnabo Jack as Babatunde and Adebisi – both part of the Council of Guidance. The important topic of suicide as a result of homosexuality disapproval especially outside Western countries is carefully raised in a way that moves the audience rather than provokes dread. Moreover, it serves a good reminder to ask ourselves a question applicable to other topics of discrimination and alienation too. Namely, What are rumours worth in the face of human breakdown and ultimately death?

The different cultural references starting from Nigeria as Yetunde remembers it centuries ago, through to the new intensely digitalised world Leah and Tara represent are accomplished through subtle smart costume adjustments. The green towel-like cloth Ibinabo Jack wraps around her waist as a skirt, her neck as a scarf and her hair as a towel, for instance is incredibly effective in demonstrating the anthropological development of a piece of the African nation. This combined with the dazzling intensity of the colours typical for this part of the world bring the audience closer to what might be for some a distant time and place.

The numerous elements of suspension within the play including the cliff-hanger at end of Act I, help greatly in building up the necessary levels of tension between characters. The chemistry achieved between Tara and Leah is visible from kilometres. Thus the comedy moments come naturally, and as such present a very true way of masking fears and vulnerability especially in communicating with loved ones. This paradox of avoiding honesty with the closest people later on by itself delivers an important message on re-learning how to co-exist with others. For those ubiquitous themes and the joy of being taken away by a love story delivered with well measured emotional intelligence by the actors, the play deserves its standing ovation.

Runs until 21  March 2020

The Reviews Hub Score

Exhilaratingly heartfelt

User Rating: 3.05 ( 1 votes)

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