Ilé la Wà translates to ‘We Are Home.’ Sometimes we all need some perspective – for all we’d like to complain about 2016, the unimaginable horrors of those suffering from displacement within this world should always be at the forefront. Tolu Agbelusi’s debut production played Rich Mix, a blend of performance poetry and real life stories, that isn’t afraid to ask an audience difficult questions. When we say immigrant do we mean undocumented child, asylum seeker or something else? When should the need for control outweigh the need of humanity? Most crucially, when are we home? It’s simple in its approach, rich in its outcome.
Ilé la Wà is a collaborative effort between Agbelusi and four poets – Tshaka Campbell, Belinda Zhawi, Jemilea Wisdom and Russenï Fisher, the latter two treating us to opening performances alongside Shade Joseph and Emmanuel Sugo. It’s a warm, loving, nuanced start. Then it turns into a locked room drama for the 21st century. Four characters trapped at an immigration holding, seething and panicked by their torment. Tapiwa (Rudzani Moleya) is a grieving wife and mother to be, Sasha (Agbelusi) has a deeply troubled relationship with her sister that she can’t shake, whilst Ronu (Bayo Gbadamosi) is a young man whose life was turned upside down when he applied to university. The outlier is Ellie (Flo Wilson), who resists the emotion of her companions, chiding their reactions to how society treats people, always aiming for the high ground.
The text has such merit. An amalgamation of true stories, dialogue and poetry makes for a layered script, thick with metaphor and symbolism, with an honesty that keeps everything grounded. It’s the perfect mix of style and substance, effectively unnatural. Little touches add layers to the experience – the characters occasionally speak in unison, though independent within their story, they all share a collective feeling at this point in time. When Ellie joins the unison it’s a very telling moment in her journey. Perhaps the stakes of the situation, the immediate threat posed to our characters, gives way to discussion and commentary by the play’s end. Don’t get me wrong, you owe these accounts every fibre of your commitment, but a side effect is that the opening tension largely fades away.
Performances are commendable across the board. Moleya is unapologetic in her portrayal, providing the moral compass to the story, whilst remaining steadfastly diligent to her character’s views. Gbadamosi is charismatic and entertaining, keeping his youthful fears in the foreground. Wilson, the most important character in terms of counterpoint, wrings a dry laugh from her comments, yet her resolution is convincing and deeply sympathetic. Agbelusi isn’t as polished in delivery, but her performance is the most honest of the four.
I love productions that aren’t afraid to be simple, and this was a clear example of it working. Sarah Meadows directs with an efficient edge to her staging, coaxing subtlety out of her performers instead of high melodrama (where this production threatens to go at times). She’s also got some lovely moody lighting states, raising the level of theatricality without going overboard. You could argue some flourishes, such as the actors humming to underlay parts of the text, don’t add enough to make up for their existence.
The wonderfully eloquent Q&A at the finish raised a poignant question – how can more people see this production? Let me be clear. This is a show for everybody to watch, no matter where you are from or what you believe. Those most in need of seeing Ilé la Wà will be the hardest draw, so I hope and pray that the other side of this argument can be appealed to. A really terrific debut from Agbelusi, bolstered by excellent performances and a text that speaks volumes, lyrically and truthfully. There’s a brutal honesty here that cannot, should not, will not be stifled. Let’s start the movement – Ilé la Wà needs to return.
Ilé la Wà played at Rich Mix on November 27. For more information click here.
Photo: Jolade Olusanya