She Is A Place Called Home – a show about British Nigerian sisterhood
Developed on the VAULT Festival New Writers Programme and shortlisted for the Untapped Award, this gripping show follows two British Nigerian sisters as they navigate their Dad’s decision to get another wife (as in, in addition to their Mum), and what this means for their faith, family and future. It explores several difficult topics including clashes between faith and culture, the experience of eating disorders by black women and non-physical forms of domestic violence.
As a British Nigerian, I’ve gotten used to navigating between two worlds. When other kids were eating Shepard’s Pie for dinner, I had egusi and pounded yam. I don’t mind this, the ability to combine my cultures has given me a rich appreciation for the diversity this world has to offer, while yielding some wonderful results. For example, at Christmas we have turkey and jollof. When I graduated, my parents rocked up in the most amazing traditional outfits.
But there are some clashes that are harder to resolve, particularly when they have caused me to confront how Western I am, and how I inevitably view my Nigerian culture through this lens. To begin, I am not making a judgement on the entirety of Nigeria, rather I am drawing on my personal experiences as someone who is both Benin and Esan. From this experience, I have noticed that one area this clash can be quite apparent is in how marriage approached, and from my exploration of this She Is A Place Called Home was birthed.
She Is A Place Called Home explores the impact on a family of a Dad’s decision to get another wife. Polygamy within British Nigerian families is not something often discussed, especially not the legal consequences of that decision. Under British law, it is illegal to have multiple wives – this would otherwise be bigamy. However, families who are polygamous often do not trigger bigamy laws as the wedding ceremony that precedes the marriage is not one that is, in the eyes of British law, capable of forming a valid legal marriage. While this allows for an uneasy balance between monogamous Britain and the desire of people to continue to practice their traditions, it also leaves those involved in the polygamous relationship in a legal grey area, one where if something were to go wrong, the parties involved would have little to no legal recourse. This can be a dangerous position to be in, and one that leaves people, usually women, in a vulnerable situation.
Through writing this play, I’ve been able to reflect on conflicts such as this, and to critique further whether countries such as Britain should be able to herald their diversity as a strength when they enact laws, and other structures, that assume when someone moves here that they will leave their culture and traditions behind. This is not the case as the play highlights, and there is a human cost to this approach.
I’ve also been able to highlight some lesser talked about topics, such as the experience of eating disorders by black women. Within the media, black and BAME people are rarely mentioned in conversations about eating disorders. When they are, they are often portrayed as battling bulimia or another form of binge eating disorder, and never as the central character. Representation is powerful, and through this play I wanted people who had battled eating disorders to feel seen and heard because black women struggle too, and that should be normalised. The show is also partnered with Solace Women’s Aid as it explores several forms of non-physical domestic violence and I wanted to raise awareness of Solace’s life saving work in this area.
I greatly appreciate the opportunity writing this play has given me to showcase the things I love about my culture, like the gorgeous clothing, the music and the emphasis on family. I also hope it gives audiences an insight into some of the challenges black British women experience. For instance, in the play you’ll see the sisters discussing topics such as tokenism in the workplace and the difficulties of dating as a black woman.
Ultimately, this is a show about sisterhood and only by understand the depth of their relationship will this show make sense. I hope audiences leave with a renewed appreciation for their loved ones and a desire to be overwhelmingly kind to themselves, because they’re doing the best they can.
She Is A Place Called Home runs from 3rd – 8th March as part of VAULT Festival, Leake Street Graffiti Tunnel, Waterloo, SE1 7NN. Tickets can be found here: https://vaultfestival.com/whats-on/she-is-a-place-called-home/.
At the end of each performance, there will be a collection for monetary donations and donations of toiletries to support Solace Women’s Aid.