Southwark Playhouse, London SE1
Opened 1 August, 1995

To run a five-week season of African plays, readings and workshops on a budget of £2000 is miraculous in itself, and one might expect the results to be decidedly hole-in-corner. Not so: the production values of Acquisitive Case bear comparison with any fringe show, and San Cassimally's play bowls along nicely.

This tragi-comedy blends the downfall of an over-reaching individual, Al Haji, and his family with the endemic corruption of modern Nigeria. Al Haji and his colleagues live by the saw, "There are two ways to do everything the crooked way and the dishonest way." Officials are bribed to allow the purchase of the town's prestigious Pink House, and rumours about ghosts deliberately circulated to knock down its price with the help of nephew Aliya, who has ambitions to join the tribe of Mbenzi (those who drive Mercedes-Benz) but will settle for a Peugeot. In the middle of all this hokey dealing, smart but idealistic daughter Kadiatou is trying in vain to help build a new Nigeria.

Director Femi Elufowoju Jr saves the gloom for the inexorable catastrophe at the end of the second act, allowing free rein to the intimate social satire which informs the bulk of the play. He also bucks the trend of actor-directors proving to be weak links in performance; his own stint as a cowed, shambling manservant is as understated as it can be in the circumstances.  Alan Cooper's Al Haji is a bluff, hearty fellow, blind to the developments closest to him; Marcia Hewitt is nobler but no less short-sighted as Kadiatou; and Wale Oju puts in a delicious cameo as a prophet-cum-gossipmonger blind beggar.

Southwark Playhouse is beginning to acquire an identity for itself by pulling off small wonders, and Acquisitive Case cannot but enhance its standing.

Written for the London Evening Standard.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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