Carefully studying his image in a mirror and blocking his ears from a cacophony of advice and complaints, Akanbi seems to be trying to figure out who he is. Having lost his father, and feeling separated from his mother by a generational divide, he is lost for what kind of man to become.
In reality, the way for him is made quite clear in Dagogo Hart and Felispeaks’s new spoken word play, set in Nigeria. It begins, rather beautifully, with Akanbi’s birth and his mother recalling child-raising methods passed down to her by her forebears. “These wrinkled women will sing my praise,” she says with pride.
Though the mother appears in the loving shape of Claudia Gichuhi, her strong feelings are narrated by Felispeaks, an engaging performer with a full-bodied voice. At one point, accompanied by the soft melody of Adam Byrne’s piano, she shuts her eyes in concentration, retrieving the well-dabbed imagery and detail of an exhilarating romance.
The plot moves on to see Akanbi’s father die from alcoholism, leaving his son aggrieved but surprisingly gentle in Dagogo Hart’s performance. His mother is concerned about his displays of recklessness but Akanbi’s more fixated on his role as the sole male in the home. “Shoes need filling,” he says, in a play where exposition sounds like poetry.
What flows is a series of personal mind shifts about women’s inequality. Akanbi reflects on how he is exempt from the housework his sister (Esther Ayo James) is expected to do. He is horrified to hear his friend (Tolu Makay) has been raped, and how common it is. He also grows worried about his mother’s old-fashioned attitudes on gender roles.
To help him make sense of it all, a new lover arrives, though in Felispeaks’s deep presence she more so has the fateful assurance of a spirit guide. (“I’m a beauty worth having,” she admits).
The final realisation comes with the conviction that the play has, in fact, wrestled with grief and toxic masculinity, when it has only scratched the surface. But there’s no denying the life-saving advice of Akanbi’s mother (“My son, be kind. Be wise”) in a lyrical work where manhood is freed by women.
Boy Child is on until 15 September 2018 at the New Theatre, Dublin. Click here for more details.