Image Source: Yolanda Mercy (Twitter)
Yolanda Mercy’s one woman show “Quarter Life Crisis” at the 2017 Ake Festival provided a deliciously pop (py) and irreverent take on the British-Nigerian diaspora experience. It follows the travails of Alicia Adewale, a twenty-something Londoner wondering when exactly she’ll become an adult – all the while clutching on to her ‘young person’s railcard’. Mercy, a breakout star at the 2017 Edinburgh festival, proved just as enjoyable a presence on the Nigerian stage, though some of the particular tropes of diaspora humor travel poorly. Mercy has a wonderful knack for portraying a variety of different characters, transforming into a range of different roles with the smallest of gestures — from a gruff male lover after a one-night stand, to Alicia’s grasping, materialistic, chavy pregnant cousin, Titi, to her shy co-worker. There are parts where this skill fails her ; strikingly in a production about Nigerian identity, the Nigerian accents, particular the voice of her mother are decidedly hammy — caricatures of an African accent popularized by British comedians such as Gina Yashere and Richard Blackwell. These exaggerated accents may have been amusing in the 90s, but should now be consigned to history — certainly by dramatists with any serious intent — it notably elicited few laughs amongst the mostly Nigerian audience. What is successful about this production is the quirky approach to the bewilderment the twenty-something protagonist feels in approaching adulthood, and navigating an identity that is both local, rooted in her London ‘endz’ and the post-colonial displacement of being ‘Nigerian’ and ‘English’. Her search for identity is filtered through a story of family break-up that is not entirely convincing, nevertheless it provides a useful ruse for a gallop through the British-African experience, drawing links between slavery, post-colonial migration to more recent migrations. A great deal of what is affecting in the show is Alicia’s awareness of the weight of her history juxtaposed against her own lack of seriousness and direction in her own life. Pleasurably, the seriousness never becomes overwhelming. Much of the story is brilliantly told through the use of voiceover, alongside a very well realized representation of social media and text message conversations. For this writer, where the production faltered was in the perilously stilted translation of Yoruba letters from father to daughter. Nevertheless, Mercy has a keen sense of observation, and manages to convey the mental confusion that arises from unclear expectations for a third culture kid becoming a woman with a deft measure of irreverence, pathos and schoolgirl humor. While the ending of this show leaves a little to be desired — Mercy as a performer — is never dull nor tired — and left the audience decidedly hungry for more; one hopes she’ll make another appearance at Ake and any other stage she chooses to grace in Nigeria.