Just an Ordinary Lawyer

Tayo Aluko
Tayo Aluko and Friends
C ARTS | C venues | C digital

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Just an Ordinary Lawyer

Framed around the central character’s two great loves, cricket and music, Just an Ordinary Lawyer is both fascinating as a biography and telling regarding racial politics in Britain and further afield during the second half of the 20th century.

Tunji Sowande was a remarkable man, brought to life by writer / performer Tayo Aluko, who pleasingly knows how to wield a cricket bat in earnest and sing cheerfully, although his voice sounds closer to a bass than his character’s baritone.

Brought up as part of a well-to-do family in Lagos, Nigeria, Sowande initially enjoyed a successful career as a pharmacist, marrying and having two children. However, at the age of 33 just after the Second World War, he gave it all up and emigrated to London with the ambition of becoming a barrister.

In the early 1950s, having passed his legal exams, the young immigrant faced an interview with distinguished barrister Edgar Mappin for a place in chambers.

While rejection might be expected, the overtly racist language that the dismissive interviewer thought appropriate will deeply shock everyone seeing this solo show and possibly politicised his interviewee, who thereafter stood up for victims of discrimination.

The play starts at an unplanned reunion between the duo during the final Test Match in 1968 at a time when Nigeria was in the midst of a civil war and apartheid held sway in South Africa.

On that day, Basil D’Oliveira, an English hero but born Cape coloured in South Africa, enjoyed one of his finest hours, pleasing one Nigerian cricket fanatic in the crowd.

The upshot was embarrassment for the MCC (of which a committee member was Judge Edgar Mappin) and a series of defeats for the apartheid regime, doubling Sowande’s delight.

The 90-minute-long performance combines this appreciation of cricket with a series of brief songs and a powerful story that feels even more pertinent in the wake of the Windrush scandal.

While Tunji Sowande often had to put up with racial prejudice, this dignified man always emerged on top, eventually becoming Britain’s first black judge and finally besting his old legal adversary as the West Indies team triumphed over England in the 1979 World Cup.

Just an Ordinary Lawyer is being performed live at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe but is also available as a digital recording on demand which will remain available into the future.

The recording quality before a live audience is not always perfect, but the story and performance overcome any minor technical quibbles and the show is strongly recommended for anyone who is interested in British colonial history, race relations, cricket or the law.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher