A fascinating show that interweaves politics, music and Sowande’s abiding passion, cricket – 4 out of 5 starsMichael Billington, Guardian theatre critic
On Monday 22 May, the Inn is proud to host a performance of ‘Just an Ordinary Lawyer’, a one-man show performed by Tayo Aluko about the life of Tunji Sowande. Tunji Sowande was the first Black head of Chambers and the (part-time) Black Judge in Britain.
The performance explores Imperialism, Colonialism and Black people’s struggles for freedom, justice and human rights, in Africa and the diaspora, from the point of view of one who would rather just be a good lawyer, watch sports, and spread love and peace through the medium of song.
Nigerian-born Tayo Aluko is an actor, singer and playwright, based in Liverpool, UK, where he worked previously as an architect. ‘Just an Ordinary Lawyer’ is his second full length play which premiered in August 2016 and has been performed in five countries.
We interviewed Tayo Aluko, about what inspired him to write the play and drew him to play the role of Tunji Sowande.
When did you first hear about Tunji Sowande and why did you think he would make for an interesting subject matter for a play
“Tunji Sowande’s nephew is a friend of mine, and a Liverpool resident like me. Knowing I was a singer, he used to tell me of having an uncle who sang. I never got the chance to meet him, but after he died, I eventually inherited much of his sheet music collection through my friend.
“A Nigerian historian once saw my play on another historical figure, Paul Robeson, and said after the performance that all the way through, he was thinking I should do a play about Master Sowande, about whom he had done much research. Although Sowande’s life wasn’t as political, epic or dramatic as Robeson’s, I saw him as a good vehicle through whom to explore and express the kinds of political and historical ideas of interest to me.”
In what way do you think your production brings something new to this story?
“By introducing a number of fictional characters, one of whom was interested in politics and history, another of whom embodied the contemporary manifestation of a declining British Empire, and putting them in close contact with Sowande, I am able to demonstrate how our present is influenced by our past, both on a personal and societal level.”
What do you like the most about playing Tunji Sowande?
“The ability to tell bigger stories through the life of one interesting man who, although a pioneer in many ways, considered himself (as I suggest on his behalf) to be “just an ordinary lawyer.” I also enjoy the idea of singing some of the songs that he inherited and sang, and introducing them to new audiences. And finally, I love knowing that people are educated as well as entertained by the show.”
Who should come and see this show?
“People interested in law, cricket, history, politics and/or music. And I always say that one doesn’t have to understand or practice any of these to enjoy the play.”
Finally, are you as much of a fan of cricket as Tunji Sowande was?
“It is fascinating to know that I played cricket on the same pitch at the same school as Tunji went to in Nigeria some sixty years after he did. I am pretty sure though that few people were as passionate about or obsessed with the game as he was, and I only watch it occasionally myself these days. In addition to performing the play at Lincoln’s Inn and other Inns of Court, I fantasize about performing it in other spaces he loved dearly, namely Lord’s and other great cricket grounds. That would be very satisfying.”