Pioneering black lawyer is awarded his place in history

Monday, 23rd January 2017 — By Angela Cobbinah

RVW The Lawyer Sarah Franklin cut out

Tayo Aluko in Just an Ordinary Lawyer. Photo: Sarah Franklin

at Theatro T­echnis

HAVING written and performed his celebrated one-man show Call Mr Robeson, Tayo Aluko now turns his attentions to Nigerian-born lawyer Tunji Sowande, an altogether riskier enterprise since few people will have ever heard of him.

But Aluko is an engaging performer and manages to bring to life the pompous but likeable Sowande, who became Britain’s first black head of chambers in the 1960s while still pursuing his passion for both cricket and singing.

Given the best education colonial Britain had to offer the children of the Nigerian elite, he had arrived in London more than a decade earlier as an ambitious law student. But his personal experience of racial bigotry helped to sensitise him to the political currents swirling around him both at home and abroad.

Although no political activist, Sowande always has plenty to say for himself, and his observations create a fascinating thread of history running through the play, viewed via the prism of sport. For example, Sowande witnesses the mixed-race batsman Basil D’Olivera in action against Australia at the Oval, a headline event that led to apartheid-era South Africa’s eventual sporting isolation; and later the international triumph of the Clive Lloyd-captained Windies at Lords.

His lament at the assassination of Martin Luther King is followed by his delight at the black power salute protest at the Mexico Olympics. Aluko intersperses his protagonist’s musings with a variety of songs, some from Sowande’s own repertoire, ranging from Victorian ballad Holy City to the jazz standard I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free, his fine baritone vocals accompanied by Horacio López Redondo on piano.

Music, politics and sport plus some family setbacks make for a heady, absorbing mix that awards Sowande his place in history and leaves you feeling like you’ve made an interesting new friend.

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