Two Horsemen – Jermyn Street Theatre, London

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Writer: Biyi Bandele

Director: Ebenezer Bamgboye

Of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the last year has clearly been in the hands of Pestilence who – in the UK at least – seems to be saddling-up at last, allowing much missed venues like the Jermyn Street Theatre to reopen after 14-months of closure. This particular theatre has been at the forefront of digital innovation during lockdown and heralds its return to live performance with the hybrid Footprints Festival, opening with Biyi Bandele’s award-winning Two Horsemen.

Street cleaners Lagbaja and Banza have survived the flood and live together in a single room where they run through their daily routine of preparing meals and telling stories of who they used to be. Yet what they remember seems to change, or have they said this all before? As the two friends examine their identity, past and present become confused, but the rain continues to fall.

Bandele’s play is a form of grounded absurdism, combining an unfathomable, clearly apocalyptic setting in which these two characters are eternally trapped but creating an honest emotional engagement through the tangible stories of family, love and relationships that the men tell one another to pass the time. Running at just 55-minutes, Two Horsemen has a wonderfully slippery quality, but the fluid nature of time, truth and sense cleverly morphs into a structured form as the play concludes.

The centrepiece conversations that Bandele creates between Lagbaja and Banza have recurring themes focusing particularly on paternity and parental relationships as both men tell several semi-comic tales of childhood that play with notions of the characters’ age. Life, death, murder and particularly God recur with purpose throughout, and Bandele has a Pinteresque interest in vocabulary as a tool to talk around meanings as a way to create mood and discomfort.

Director Ebenezer Bamgboye makes good use of the small Jermyn Street space to draw out the changes of pace and tone in the text which should work well for the in-person and digital audience alike. There are subtle beats between the conversational dialogue and brief monologue excerpts presented like dream-sequences using Johanna Town’s heightened lighting, while Max Pappenheim supplies an evocative sound design that continually unsettles.

Daon Broni as Lagbaja and Michael Fatogun as Banza capture the changing rhythms of the play really well, taking these deliberately indistinct characters telling endlessly contradictory stories about themselves and using their performances to create sincerity. Whatever the truth of these men, they entirely believe what they say in that second, and both actors build complex emotional connections to these stories that keep the audience both invested and guessing who they really are.

‘Every day we just sit here and yap our lives away’, Lagbaja wearily exclaims but Two Horsemen is a play in which conversation is simultaneously something to hide behind and a maze to be navigated at the centre of which is the truth they seek. Philosophical in part and full of linguistic craft, Bandele’s play feels like strong statement of intent for the Footprints Festival and a worthy welcome back to live performance for the Jermyn Street Theatre.

Runs until 5 June 2021

The Reviews Hub Score

Linguistic craft

The Reviews Hub - London

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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