Festival Theatre

Hear Word! Naija Woman Talk True

Lyceum, Edinburgh

Mary Brennan

four stars

NAIJA is by way of a nickname for Nigeria – that it also means ‘free’ or ‘escape’ brings a wry irony to Hear Word! Naija Woman Talk True. The truths that come centre-stage at the Lyceum are rarely filled with talk of free will, or lasting escape from how women are traditionally treated in that country. Instead director/co-writer Ifeoma Fafunwa has laced together graphic instances of the repression, suppression, verbal and physical abuse that women still endure in patriarchal communities where male entitlement is the watchword.

One after another, Fafunwa’s glorious and unflinching regiment of ten women – all costumed in the vibrantly patterned kente cloth of their homeland – detail the beatings, the gropings and grabbings, the dismissive contempt and the vicious inequality that are the societal norm even now.

A young girl is brutally raped and discarded? She is the one shamed and blamed. And, because Fafunwa is determined that honesty and openness are of the essence, we hear of how women – mothers and mothers-in-law, aunts and ever-watchful neighbours – collude in, and perpetuate, the ingrained sense of women as second-class beings (at best) or as mere chattels with no value beyond servicing men and bearing sons.

There is so much grief and pain in these vignettes that you don’t expect humour, let alone exuberant singing and dancing – but these life-affirming elements are, like the seeds of #MeToo feminism, deftly woven into the fabric of the piece. There’s mischief and delight in the voices, and words, of women who have discovered sex can be orgasmic, not a degrading imposition. They even give generous mention to the good men who are increasingly supportive. As the words of the Yoruba chant sing out ‘Listen and learn!’, the live percussion gives emphasis to the message. It’s a sly touch to have three men as the musicians on the side... all they are beating here are drums!