My Father’s Fable – Bush Theatre, London

Reviewer: Scott Matthewman

Writer: Faith Omole

Director: Rebekah Murrell

At the start of the Bush Theatre’s latest production, Peace (Tiwa Lade), a schoolteacher still recovering from the death of her father, is preparing to meet the half-brother she never knew. Theo Ogunpide’s Bolu comes from her father’s first, hitherto unknown, family that was left behind in Nigeria, and is making his first visit to London.

Faith Omole, known as an actor for her roles in Standing at the Sky’s Edge and the Channel 4 sitcom We are Lady Parts, efficiently establishes the relationships between the four players in this, her first produced script. Peace has little connection to her parents’ homeland, struggling to make joloff rice and not speaking Yoruba; her boyfriend Roy (Gabriel Akuwudike) is patient and supportive, but nonetheless wary that Bolu’s motives may not be pure.

And then there’s Peace’s mother, Favour, who, after telling her daughter she wants no part in meeting Bolu, turns up unannounced and then, after a migraine attack, decides she’s not well enough to go home just yet. Rakie Ayola gives tremendous spark to a character who, already larger than life, could be portrayed as a total monster. Ayola makes Favour’s passive-aggressive attitude to her daughter’s life fizzle on multiple layers, adding humanity to the character’s otherwise overbearing demeanour.

Ogunpide’s characterisation of the newcomer to the family dynamic is in opposition to that. His Bolu is largely quieter and more private, in ways that fuel the doubts about his motivation for his visit. Peace and Roy each come round to him at their own pace, but the tension between Bolu and Favour continues to simmer.

Among the family dynamic, and the prospect of untangling what was true and what was not about the life Peace had believed her father lived, are side plots about the nature of truth in stories. Bolu’s presence wheedles at the edges of other characters’ stereotypical view of life in Nigeria, while Peace – the only Black teacher in a private school – feels unable to explore beyond the boundaries of a World War II history syllabus that doesn’t have enough non-white faces.

But these are mostly side decorations. The real meat in Omole’s storytelling comes as Bolu’s presence triggers his memories of the last time he saw his father and the impact those recollections have on his family. And it is here where the production’s staging neuters the play’s power somewhat. The configuration of TK Hay’s thrust set means that in several key moments of dialogue, one actor always has their back to swaths of the audience. Combined with an atmospheric but occasionally intrusive score by Ayanna Witter-Johnson, some key moments lose their power through a lack of audibility.

That is compounded at the start of Act II, which has a choppiness and hesitancy from each actor that sits uncomfortably alongside the relative smoothness elsewhere. That may be connected to the excision of the act’s original opening scene; present in the play script/programme, it is a flashback presenting an aspect of Favour’s treatment of her daughter that emerges more effectively through conversation.

Without it, we do get to the shift of power in Act II more speedily, and with a little more sympathy for Ayola’s character than perhaps she deserves. More concerning in the second act is Peace’s shift to the background. While events still revolve around her relationship with the three other characters, it feels like she herself becomes a witness to, rather than a truly active participant in, familial events.

It is in these final moments, as Favour finds all her family’s skeletons liberated from the closet of history, that Ayola really shines, ensuring that the play ends on a fulfilling high note. My Father’s Fable may be an emotional story of a family’s grief, anger and resolution, but it is Rakie Ayola’s personification of Favour that will be remembered.

Continues until 27 July 2024

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Emotional tale of family grief

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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