Theatre

ACQUISITIVE CASE Southwark Playhouse
Click to follow
The Independent Culture
ffinlo [sic] Costain's design converts the auditorium at Southwark Playhouse into a hot, fragrant West African kitchen where the mouthwatering aroma of pepper soup, accompanied by the bouncy rhythms of traditional hi-life, prepare you for Acquisitive Case: a serio-comic take on chicanery in rural Nigeria.

Between the four pillars of his white-washed cookery, millionaire businessman and crook-about-town Alhaji (Alan Cooper) and his double-dealing nephew Aliya (Anthony Ofoegbu) scheme to appropriate their neighbour's house. They hatch a plot to drive the man out - by pretending the place is haunted - and so force him to sell at a loss. For Alhaji, his home represents the apogee of his success. Occupying it, he declares grandiloquently, would be akin to possessing Nigeria itself. All Aliya wants, should the plan succeed, is a brand-new Peugeot 404, plus Alhaji's junior wife Maimouna, with whom he conducts a clandestine affair.

No sooner has the covetous duo swindled its way into owning the place than the carefully laid schemes fall apart. Learning of his intention to take a new bride, Alhaji's wives refuse to move in. Aliya's designs on Maimouna crumble when, half-crazed with guilt, she spurns his declaration of love and publicly humiliates him.

Casinally's attempt to satirise corrupt businessmen in Nigeria is a hit- and-miss affair. The script cries out for a trimming. Potentially interesting characters remain undeveloped, and unfamiliar proverbs pepper the dialogue giving the whole proceedings an excrescently parochial air.

On the plus side, there are laughs aplenty, such as when Alhaji and his rumbustious business adviser Ballogun (Rufus Orisayomi) sit in a diabolical head-to-head and ruminate gloomily about the inevitability of inflation. Alhaji (the "acquisitive case" of the title) is a plump, wisecracking wheeler-dealer whose boast is of "having the face which launched a thousand deals". Spinning dark homilies to conduct skulduggery by, Alhaji is a picture of complacent dishonesty. "But... this is Nigeria," he pleads. "You've got to have your wits about you or you starve." Femi Elufowoju (who also directed) is good as his servant Ibadalla. As the fanciable Maimouna, Janice Acquah is suitably stylish, but Anthony Ofoegbu, whose credits include Five Guys Named Moe, gives a bloodless performance as Aliya. Wale Ojo is excellent as a grasping blind beggar. Good in parts.

Comments