Hoard, Arcola Theatre – Review

Family: can’t live with them, can’t live without them…

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L-R: ‘Sisters’ Elizabeth Ita and Kemi Durosinm / All photos ©Lidia Crisafulli

How often have families been described as ‘dysfunctional’? Are they really or is it just the case that family members are too alike in resoluteness, yet unable to understand each other? Written by Bim Adewunmi and directed by Femi Elufowoju Jr, Hoard takes the familiar scenario of the introduction of ‘the boyfriend’ to kin, but bringing the focus firmly on family dynamics.

The Bakares are a family of Nigerian descent who live in London. All three of the daughters have different personalities and careers, but at the end of the day they care about each other. Billi (Kemi Durosinmi) the youngest brings her new American boyfriend, Brian (Tyler Fayose) to meet her sisters over a meal, and get their feedback/’approval’. However, an impromptu visit by their mother Wura (Ellen Thomas) changes the direction of evening, keeping everyone – including the sisters – apprehensive.

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 Lovers: Billi (Kemi Durosinmi) and Brian (Tyler Fayose)

As the eldest of the sisters, teacher Rafi Bakare (Elizabeth Ita) is the most unequivocal in expressing her disapproval of her mother’s propensity for ‘hoarding’. Meanwhile, as the ‘middle’ sibling, journalist Ami (Estella Daniels) is the natural mediator and tries to keep things on an even keel. She’s also proud of her Nigerian heritage and daydreams about being ‘discovered’. Although they live together, Rafi and Ami manage to keep their flat clutter-free… That just leaves Billi who works for Google with Brian – potentially ready to take their relationship to the next level, but wanting a second opinion.

The early part of the play sees the older sisters in fine spirits and from their conversations we glean a little of the family history. But while the first Act is fun and light-hearted, the real ‘meat’ of the play lies in the relationship between Wura and her daughters. It is only then that the audience sees the ‘real’ personalites of the Bakares and the roles they respectively play by instinct or choice.

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Matriarch of the family: Wura (Ellen Thomas)

The comedy in the play organically springs from the banter between mother and daughters, and Wura’s propensity to disparage her husband’s side of the family. Thomas herself brings a larger than life energy to the character, but while Wura isn’t coy or of a nervous disposition, her self-awareness reveals a ‘rationale’ behind her ‘madness’. As the play progresses, we see that this mother/businesswoman is herself doing what she can to create a facet of her identity that isn’t defined by family or others.

What I’m impressed with is the way that the characters (eventually) are able to articulate they’ve been hurt by the past behaviour of the others, without it descending into total anarchy. That and despite their entrenched opinions, they put aside their grievances to listen to each other’s point of view.

In many plays, a mother who casts a shadow over the lives of her daughter(s) ends up emotionally estranged from them in the long run. This play puts a human face on this age-old ‘problem’ and shows how – with empathy and a willingness to listen – such issues can be worked out.

© Michael Davis 2019

Hoard runs at Arcola Theatre until 8th June


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