The High Table
Playwright: Temi Wilkey
Director: Daniel Bailey
Theatre: Bush Theatre
Review by Cherise Lopes-Baker
Wedding planning often goes awry, but for Tara and Leah, telling Tara’s Nigerian parents of their engagement creates shockwaves that reverberate into the ancestral realm. Awoken from eternal rest amongst the stars, Tara’s ancestors hold council to determine whether to bless the union.
Meanwhile, her parents grapple with the perceived cultural and religious ramifications, staunchly refusing to attend the wedding – what would people think? It is a struggle for Tara to embrace a wedding with no family to bless or support her. The pressure fractures her relationship with Leah, who is tired of being loved quietly.
Unbeknownst to Tara, her uncle Teju is also struggling to survive as an outed queer man in Nigeria where homosexuality is criminalised. As both queer family members find themselves rejected and isolated, their personal crises culminate when Teju takes his own life and ascends to the ancestors’ counsel.
Interspersed throughout the earthly drama are glimpses into a heavenly conclave divided down generational and moral lines. Trading light-hearted jibes and profound confessions, the council is forced to interrogate the violent ways colonisation has informed and distorted their beliefs over sexuality.
Yetunde’s tender reminiscences of living a happy and revered life with the woman she loved came to a shattering climax when she recounts the horrors they experienced as the first generation to be demonised and brutally murdered under colonisation.
The versatile cast transition between their earth and spirit characters with impressive ease. David Webber brings subtle layers to the internal turmoil of Segun and Babatunde, while Stefan Adegbola channels dignity and intensity to the tragic unraveling of Teju.
Jumoké Fashola showers Tara’s mother Mosun with sparkling humour and gives Yetunde a majestic air. She holds the audience in the palm of her hand as she takes them on hilarious flights of absurdity and devastating crevasses of sorrow.
Cherrelle Skeete and Ibinabo Jack gave stellar performances as Tara and Leah/Adebisi respectively. The love between the young couple is incredibly endearing and tender. The cocky, playful energy Skeete brings to the stage finds a sweet match in Ibinabo’s earnest awkwardness.
As a queer woman of colour, it was deeply affirming to see the roots of cultural rejection and colonial homophobia interrogated, and to see the intimate struggle for acceptance represented with such care.
Even more than that, the centring of the complexities and joys of black queer love is incredibly moving to see. Temi Wilkey’s debut play is a necessary and timely play to watch, support, and celebrate.
Heartwarming and resonant, The High Table is a celestial black queer tale for the ages.
The High Table is at Bush Theatre until 21st March 2020.
Photo credit: Helen Murray