Tag Archives: Ann Ogbomo

Merry Wives of Wakanda


Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford upon Avon, Thursday 24th February 2022

This new production of theatre’s greatest rom-com boasts an ‘afro-futuristic’ setting – obviously influenced by Marvel’s Black Panther film!  As a world unto itself, this ‘Messina’ works very well.  Jemima Robinson’s set design is simple but exotic, futuristic and  yet retro.  I especially like the little illuminated bulbous plants that border the stage, and the geometric shapes that predominate the setting.  This Messina is a bright and colourful place – which is supported by Melissa Simon-Hartman’s glorious costumes with their strong, solid hues and striking silhouettes, marrying African elements with sci-fi kitsch, in an eye-popping cavalcade of outfits.  This is a great-looking show.

It also sounds phenomenal, with original music by Femi Temowo, played live by an octet of musicians, including some luscious brass.  The jazz/funk/soul/old school R&B-infused score is irresistible and, mercifully, no one raps.  Which makes a refreshing change.  Album release, please!!

Director Roy Alexander Weise makes the script more accessible to a modern audience by updating some of the more archaic vocabulary.  Most of the substitutions hit their mark and get the point across, although uptight purists might squirm.

A strong ensemble cast populates the story of deception and fake news, but any Much Ado is only as good as its Beatrice and Benedick.  In the role of Beatrice, the witty wise-cracker, is Akiya Henry, giving a star turn in comedic acting.  Her word play is razor sharp and it’s matched by her physical comedy.  Henry’s energy is equalled by Luke Wilson as witty wise-cracker Benedick.  Wilson exudes warmth in his portrayal; this Benedick is not only a funny man but a good man too, someone you’d like to know and drink with,

Don Pedro is presented here as Don Pedra, a princess.  The pedant in me wants to scream ‘Shouldn’t that be Donna Pedra?’ but I don’t, because I don’t want to be ejected.  The gender swap allows for a bit of LGBTQ+ inclusivity, which works very well, and Ann Ogbomo is marvellous in the role, embodying a spirit of fun and of (misguided) indignation.

Mohammed Mansaray’s Claudio really comes to life in the church scene, rising to his big moment.  It’s hard not to dislike Claudio in subsequent scenes but Mansaray wins us back when he shows Claudio’s devastation upon hearing the consequences of his actions.

Which brings me to Hero, played by Taya Ming, who invests the role with feistiness and fire, reminding us that Hero is a close relative of Beatrice and not the simpering good girl that she is sometimes shown to be.

Kevin N Golding’s Leonato is just about perfect.  Golding calls at all the stops on the character’s emotional journey and nails every one.  Even though he looks like a Time Lord in a disco wig, he has tears springing to my cynical old eyes more than once.

Also enjoyable are Karen Henthorn’s pompous, Northern Dogberry and the Watch, whose bumbling and malapropisms contrast nicely with the erudite banter of their social ‘betters’.  Here the costumes are their most sci-fi comic book, adding to the fun.

As the villain of the piece, Don John the Bastard, Micah Balfour is deliciously anti-social in this party atmosphere.  Balfour relishes the nastiness and vindictiveness, and therefore so do we.  If only his snazzy boots didn’t squeak so much when he walks!

This is an exuberant, heart-warming, rib-tickling, tear-jerking production of a play that demonstrates that the writer bloody knew what he was doing.  Moments of high (and sometimes low) comedy flip and become intense scenes of powerful drama and, like the plotters in the story, Shakespeare makes us fall in love with Beatrice and Benedick.  Weise’s direction does a bang-up job of delivering these tonal changes effectively, to create a supremely entertaining piece that packs an emotional wallop or two.

One of the reasons I love Much Ado so much is because it reveals something about the playwright’s character, the unknowable Mr Shakespeare who is absent from his other works.  The play shows that without doubt Old Bill was a very witty fellow.  You can’t write Beatrice and Benedick if you don’t possess their sense of humour.  He must have a been a right hoot at parties.


Much Afro About Nothing: Mohammed Mansaray, Kevin N Golding, and Taya Ming.
Photo by Ikin Yum (c) RSC

Primary Colours


Southwark Playhouse, London, Saturday 18th February, 2017



 Alex Mackeith’s debut play is a cracking contemporary comedy that opens a window into the pressurised world of the primary school head teacher.  Hard-working, beset from all directions, Jo (Ann Ogbomo) appears indefatigable, able to juggle several balls and spin plates all at the same time.  She seems on top of everything but even so, with all the demands made on her, she is running to stand still.  Ogbomo is passion on legs, imbuing Jo with strength and conviction, and also vulnerability – her emotional life is suffering because of her work.  We glimpse the woman in pain when, in unguarded moments, Jo’s professional face is allowed to slip.  She is supported by secretary and wannabe teacher Lara (Fala Evans-Akingbola), fielding calls and organising Jo’s day with efficiency and nervous energy.  Lara is boning up on educational theory but, as Jo points out, ‘real kids’ aren’t like that.  The play hints that the wealth of experience of someone like Jo is disregarded by the policy makers and textbook compilers.  It’s SATs results day and the suspense is palpable…

Enter part-time tutor Tom (Oliver Dench), a posh boy who would be better off on a gap yah.  Socially inept, Tom professes to be keen to help, even if it’s just with teas and coffees, but it emerges that his approach is at odds with what the children need to get them through the processing the system demands.

Sometimes the play verges on the polemical but Mackeith leavens the proselytising with sharp, funny dialogue that has a ring of truth.  He is, perhaps, preaching to the converted.  Director Charlie Parham keeps the pace snappy.  Lines collide naturalistically, arguments build, and punchlines bite, while allowing space for character-led comic business – Dench is particularly good at this: we wince at Tom’s behaviour.  Moments of quiet and moments of crescendo are all the more powerful among the rapid-fire stichomythia.

Exquisitely and believably played by a strong quartet (Kevin Howarth appears as an aggravated parent) this is a timely, thought-provoking insight into those working at the chalk-face (whiteboard-marker face!) – an abject lesson in the effects of the failing policies of successive governments, showing the human face of those who have to work within the constraints of mandates and number-crunching at the expense of the children of this country.

It’s also a right good laugh.


Ann Ogbomo, Fala Evans-Akingbola and Oliver Dench (Photo: Guy Bell)