The High Table, a family epic, starts in a landscape of low hills, stones, sand, and bits of jewels and glass which cause the stage area to glisten and sparkle under the lights.
This is the land where the ancestors of those still living on earth wait for their reincarnation. At first three, accompanied by a drummer (Mohamed Gueye) who provides – and co-composes – the rhythms which conjure up the spirits and links back to those who need help. Later they will be joined by another to give counsel.
Temi Wilkey’s play looks deep into African culture to assess a story of LGBTQ+ liberation: Tara (Cherrelle Skeete) and Leah (Idinabo Jack) announce their wedding and the question is posed by her ancestors whether to support and bless the marriage, or to refuse to assist in the young couple’s happiness.
Skipping between life on the hill and scenes set in the present day (staged in a clear portion of floor in the centre of the action), Wilkey’s text deals with some hard questions and catastrophic consequences of the expression of sexual freedom, but resolves into a vibrant expression of pride, joy, and celebration.
Daniel Bailey directs a cast of six, three of which play dual roles which are indicated by a subtle adjustment of costume (both costumes and set are designed by Natasha Jenkins, pulling us right into both of the worlds we see before us).
Skeete’s depiction of the young lesbian struggling with the isolation of a traditional family background against the love of a confident woman is touching and effective. Jack, who pays both Leah and conservative ancestor Abebisi, embodies both characters well, especially in the scenes relating to wedding planning.
Jumoke Fashola and David Webber, as Tara’s parents and ancestors Yetunde and Babatunde, depict the difficulties of wanting the best for your child and hoping they stay “like everyone else” to avoid pain and distress due to their life choices.
Watching Webber’s silent reactions to the story spoken by his brother Teju (Stefan Adegbola), and listening to Fashola’s tale of discrimination centuries past, I became deeply involved in their story arcs. Adegbola has a smaller role, but a pivotal one, and he comes across well.
The High Table is a piece of writing which invites audiences to think, to care, and leaves us with a smile. I would invite you to head across to West London to join in the nuptials if you can: this play runs at the Bush Theatre until 21 March.
Image credits Helen Murray.
LouReviews chose to purchase a discounted ticket to see The High Table.