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It's a (Nigerian) family affair

A BRITISH-NIGERIAN TALE: Pandora’s Box stars (L-R) Olatunji Sotimirin, Susan Aderin, Yetunde Oduwole,
Petra Letang, Anna-Maria Nabirye, Bradley John, Ben Onwukwe and Damson Idris

MANY OF us experience times when we doubt ourselves and our ability to make a difficult decision for a good reason. And when you have a family, those decisions often become harder to make, as they don’t just affect you.

That is the situation explored in the new dramatic comedy Pandora’s Box by Nigerian writer Ade Solanke. Toyin (Anna-Maria Nabirye) has taken her son Timi (Bradley John) to Lagos for a holiday. But what Timi doesn’t know is that his mother is battling with the decision of whether to leave him in a Nigerian boarding school or bring him back home to inner-city London.

Being a mother herself, Solanke wanted to capture the anxiety that families experience when raising a child; a concern the playwright believes is inherent throughout the entire black British community.

“I think there is a real concern in black British society about raising our young,” said the mother-of-one. “We have recognised that there are many teenagers struggling with all sorts of issues and we see so many programmes about British kids being taken somewhere to strict households. But what are other nations doing to look after their children that we could learn from?”

If you watch any parenting show that has a strict nanny or enforcer-turned-mentor, you will know that the ideas on how to raise a child differ greatly. But Solanke sees how the old-fashioned African way of looking after a child, with discipline and less tolerance can work for some people.

“You get troubled teens everywhere in the world, but in Africa you also have less tolerance of it.

MOTHER'S LOVE: Anna-Maria Nabirye and Bradley John star as mother and son Toyin and Timi

Parents expect their children to be much better behaved than parents here [in England] do. Often, the way to instil discipline is by beating children; we know that we can’t do that in the UK. And one of the issues my protagonist goes through is that she doesn’t want her child to be beaten; she doesn’t think it is right. She doesn’t support corporal punishment.”

Solanke continues: “I can identify with that. I would never want my son to be smacked or caned, however I know that children who have been through that experience have been more disciplined because of it.”

Beyond physical punishment, Solanke says what has really resonated with audiences is the issue of parents making decisions for their children Corporal punishment is a sensitive subject in any sense. But when it is children at the receiving end of physical punishment, the issue often becomes shrouded in emotion. It is this particular issue that Solanke says resonates with the audiences who watch her play.

“There have been really strong responses to the play and what resonates so well is this idea about being a child and having adults making decisions for you. We’ve all been in those positions where we’ve been made to do things by our parents, because they believe it’s the right thing for us. We object to it but we have no power.”

STORYTELLER: Pandora’s Box writer Ade Solanke

Before you get bogged down thinking about all the things your parents made you do, remember, this is a comedy. However, Solanke says the comedic element of her production wasn’t intended.

“When we first did a reading of the play I was baffled – I didn’t know why everyone was laughing! I thought I had written a very serious drama, but people were laughing at the play. I didn’t know I had written a comedy. I’ve never thought of myself as a funny person, but I’m actually quite flattered that people found the play funny.”

Though she didn’t see her play as a comedy, Solanke certainly didn’t want it to be morbid either.
“I didn’t want people to come to the theatre and leave miserable. This is an uplifting play. It’s affirming that we go through stresses, but you get support. It’s extremely important that it is a warm play.”

* Pandora’s Box is at the Arcola Theatre from May 9-26. For more information, visit

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