Theatre

‘The Clinic’ review – Black activism drama is dampened by lack of fiery focus

★★

The Clinic’s title alone conjures a more procedural play from Dipo Baruwa-Etti than the chaotic and confusing one which unfolds on the Almeida Theatre stage. A burning motif, together with disorientating and frustrating crosstalk, tries to generate a domestic drama from so little.

Its premise flickers between the unsettling working class home invasion drama of Parasite and the sweet house with a troubling backdrop of Get Out. Activist Wunmi (Toyin Ayedun-Alase) becomes a widow and a single mother after her husband dies in a hospital where Ore (Gloria Obianyo) works. In a situation which feels like a breach of professional conduct and patient confidentiality, the latter decides to introduce her to her conservative family in the hopes it can provide some comfort to a grieving soul. A flame that’s been put out, if you will.

The family members are either superfluous in their character or their dialogue. Therapist Segun (Maynard Eziashi) is working tirelessly on a manuscript which is irrelevant but nonetheless presented as something significant; charity worker Tiwa (Donna Berlin) is defined by her secretive, addictive tea and excessively warm demeanour; Bayo (Far Away’s Simon Manyonda) is underused save for a brief debate on being a Black police officer which is intriguing, but short lived; and his politician wife Amina (Mercy Ojelade) who is upset over what a constituent said to her.

The juggling of too many subplots and the question of just how much importance to assign to each one makes for a busy script, and the aforementioned crosstalk doesn’t help director Monique Touko (Fair Play) to direct our focus on the right places, either. Any revelation which is designed to be shocking has its impact diminished by the prior confusion, creating a sense that the twists – such as the quickly established news that Amina is pregnant – have been thrown in as sudden catalysts rather than meaningful plot points.

This issue in the writing also has the issue of establishing a second protagonist in the form of the unenthused and despondent Ore. In a play filled with bitter characters, it is Obianyo’s dry, deadpan delivery which makes Ore the most entertaining and thus, realistic family member. The loss of her patient leads to her deconstructing the motives and Black identities of her relatives in a shocking fashion, but concentrating so much exposition in one individual is overwhelming. Perhaps that’s why the play’s open-ended conclusion indicates further discontent in a suffocating household.

In Wunmi’s case, it’s clear the play wants to explore a single mother putting her activism on hold in order to improve her mental health for the sake of her child, August. It’s implied from the outset, as she dashes between placards and a baby carrier on different sides of the stage. Gorgeous, glowing lighting design from Matt Haskins continues the theme of an activist trying to reignite her own spark, but the wider message is buried under everything else.

It’s a shame, because there is the faintest glimmer of something bigger in Baruwa-Etti’s work: the exhaustion which comes with advocacy, and the sense individuals can only commit to one societal role at a time – that they must choose when to opt in and out of the tiring and all-consuming work of advocacy. It’s hinted in one line from Ore, when she is asked about focussing on her work when she wants to focus on her activism. Why not both?

This internal struggle is where the fire of The Clinic lies, but it is dampened by all the subplots around it. Others may argue that that’s rather the point of Wunmi’s character in this claustrophobic house drama, but despite a strong performance from Ayedun-Alase, the production and main character both lack the focus they so desperately need.

The Clinic is now playing at the Almeida Theatre until 1 October.

Relaxed, audio described and captioned performances will take place on 21, 24 and 29 September respectively.


Production Images: Marc Brenner.

Disclaimer: I was invited to watch ‘The Clinic’ for free in exchange for a review of the performance as a member of the press. I did not receive payment for the above article and all opinions stated are honest and my own.

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