Thursday 17th March 2022 at York Theatre Royal.
In Here’s What She Said to Me, three African women joined together by blood explore the timeless themes of love, family, heritage and legacy. Along the way, as we hear their intertwined stories, we are invited to consider how generational and geographical shifts influence life choices and relationships while also reflecting on the ideas of breaking cycles and history repeating despite best efforts.
We’re told a lifetime of events through a combination of scenes played with fourth wall intact and narration directed out to us, securing connection between cast and audience throughout. Boundaries blur gently with characters interacting across time and space as past events are played out for us alongside commentary in the present. In the process of this, we are witnesses to not just the story fragments but also to the differing perspectives on the events we see.
Oladipo Agboluaje’s script (based on an idea conceived by Mojisola Elufowoju) crafts layered, complex characters each trying to navigate expectations of them alongside their own needs. There’s both realism and lyricism at work, as poetry and expressive monologues provide additional depth, but the mirroring of stories and subtle and not-so-subtle recurring lines are a real source of comedic and poignant power too. Elufowoju’s direction is full of shifting emotion and energy, bringing the subtleties, joys and pains of Agboluaje’s writing to life to deliver what is ultimately an epic journey through the past and present of the women we meet.
A talented cast of three play every major and minor role, joined on stage by musician Ayan De First, who underscores scenes and provides lively transitions to break up moments of intensity. Anni Domingo is deeply charismatic as Agbeke, the voice of wisdom and hardship combined. Her life was supposed to take a pioneering path, but choices and betrayals got in the way and Domingo moves between the wit and poignancy of the character as convincingly as she appeals to us to understand the situation.
In a fantastically varied performance, Oyin Orija impresses as both her primary character, the troubled mother Omotola who looks back on a difficult past and tries to sculpt a better future, and as she shifts between roles. At pace and with her whole body and voice, she reaches across the divisions of youth and pained maturity or vulnerability and strength to play a wide array of characters. Lola May proves just as adept at creating a distinct imprint, particularly as the territorial wife and the young Aramide, intrigued by the complex relationships of the adults around her until she in turn faces her own challenges.
Maria Cassar’s movement direction is also a highlight, bringing layers of meaning to representative motion but also helping to deliver emotionally charged or traumatic moments in ways which are skilfully muted without ever undermining their power – allowing the pain of events to land with gravity but never at the expense of the characters. And there’s an impressively delicate balance at work throughout here as dramatic central action propels us, but music (often accompanied by Lati Sakai’s energised choreography) and humour are also pivotal.
In exploring those central themes alongside shifting cultural expectations sparking inter-generational conflict, Here’s What She Said to Me provides plenty of food for thought, but it is above all else a beautiful example of judicious, engaging storytelling.
Here’s What She Said to Me is a Utopia Theatre Production – you can find more information about the company here.