(Arifa Akbar’s article appeared in the Guardian, 6/14.)
Nuanced, charismatic performances … Marcy Dolapo Oni and Patrice Naiambana in The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives. Photograph: Tristram Kenton for the Guardian
“Sir, you will deposit your sperm inside,” a hospital nurse instructs Baba Segi as she hands him a beaker. He – a polygamist and paradigm of chauvinistic braggadocio – insists he does not need a fertility test and that it is his fourth wife who needs to be examined, for “barrenness”.
He is told to leave his deposit in the container anyway, and with that begins a masturbation scene of such epic and eye-wateringly Rabelaisian proportions that it becomes the definitive show-stopping moment in a production filled to the brim with sexual swagger and sensational daring.
Based on Lola Shoneyin’s bestselling 2011 novel, the play is set in an enclave of modern-day Nigeria where tribal custom and witchcraft still rub up against rationality and science. Ostensibly about polygamy in old Africa, it is a far more universal story of the shifting power-play inside a marriage and sexual envy 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.