'Ordinary' lawyer makes for an extraordinary show
Just An Ordinary Lawyer - a play, with songs, Belgrade B2, May 19 only.
This extraordinary one-man show, written and performed by Tayo Aluko, charts the life of Tunji Sowande, a Nigerian who came to the UK to study law and eventually, in 1968, became the first black head of a major barristers' chambers in Britain.
It seemed fitting to watch the show on the day that Prince Harry married the mixed race Meghan, charting as it does, Sowande's battles with the establishment not only for recognition, but also for simple respect. Perhaps times are a'changing at last.
But for Sowande there were dreadful indignities to be endured. After qualifying as a lawyer he was repeatedly turned down for jobs because of his race, even being told by one bigoted senior barrister to go back to Bongo Bongo land.
The beauty of this performance is that in just about 90 minutes it skilfully and entertainingly weaves together the story of Sowande’s legal career with the development of race relations at the time, which was itself, inextricably tied up with sport.
The year of '68, was a momentous one with societies around the world in the grip of civil wars, riots, and strikes.
And Sowande, passionate about cricket, was at Lords watching Basil D’Oliveira with his brilliant, elegant batting for England against the Australians, set a spark which would prove to have long-term political repercussions, leading ultimately to the exclusion of apartheid-era South Africa from sporting events, and international isolation.
Alongside this we are reminded of conflicts elsewhere in 1960s' Africa and Britain as a former colonial power, shamelessly continuing to destabilise governments.
The scope of the piece is enormous - we are also reminded of the assassination of Martin Luther King and the Black Power salutes of the two African American athletes at the Mexico Olympics.
And in addition to this run-through of mid-20th century political and sporting history, we go back to Sowande’s life and challenging relationships with his family. The pace is quick and never flags, and the seriousness of the themes is lightened with humour and songs for which Aluko, with his Paul Robeson-style baritone, is accompanied by a pianist.
But for me a highlight was the post-show discussion.
Aluko, himself a Nigerian whose life in some ways has mirrored that of Tunji Sowande, invited the audience to stay behind for a chat. He continued to entertain us while giving us his views on a range of issues from the Windrush scandal to the row over alleged antisemitism in the Labour Party.
Another great performance at the B2!