Tea drinking features heavily in Dipo Baruwa-Etti's posh kitchen-set play The Clinic at the Almeida Theatre. But this tea may or may not have intoxicating or calming effects; even those who fervently dislike infusions get a taste for it.
And that is The Clinic, a mix of contemporary family drama and something more difficult to put a finger on.
It opens with the 60th birthday celebration of Segun (Maynard Eziashi) with his wife Tiwa (Donna Berlin), son Bayo (Simon Manyonda, daughter Ore (Gloria Obianyo) and Bayo's wife Amina (Mercy Ojelade).
The dialogue crackles and sparks; this is a familiar family dynamic that is a mix of love and frustration. There are harsh jibes and sharp digs centring on politics and activism.
Segun is a therapist and author, and Tiwa volunteers at a women's refuge. They have made a comfortable life for themselves and vote Tory. Bayo is in the police, Ore is a junior doctor and both vote labour. Amina is a labour politician.
Job choice comes under scrutiny, as does who is best placed to force change and drive racial equality and what is the most effective tactic. Sparks fly in a fierce, passionate, angry debate that quickly spills over into hurtful remarks.
Into this mix comes Wunmi (Toyin Ayedun-Alase), a suicidal widow with a baby, whom Ore thinks her parents can help.
The plot subsequently spirals into a series of twists and turns so that when accompanied by the occasionally flickering lights, you feel like you've been drinking the tea.
However, next to the rounded characters of the family, Wunmi, whether victim or interloper, feels too lightly drawn, which makes her a perplexing plot driver.
There are some laugh-out-loud moments, and some of the twists are gasp-inducing, but the latter detracts rather than adds to the promise of the opening scene. And while some of the ideas set up for discussion are returned to, they don't feel as fully explored as they could be.
Superbly performed, The Clinic is stuffed full of important issues, whip-smart at times, it carries you along at a cracking pace, but at others, it twists at too sharp an angle to keep up.
It left me wanting more of that fiery, dynamic and vital debate from the first scene and a bit less of everything else. I'm giving it ⭐️⭐️⭐️.
The Clinic, Almeida Theatre
Written by Dipo Beruwa-Etti
Directed by Monique Touke
Running time: 2 hours and 10 minutes, including an interval.
Booking until 1 October, for further details and tickets, visit the Almeida website.
Who Killed My Father, Young Vic ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Silence, Donmar Warehouse ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Theatre coming up soon:
Rose, Park Theatre and The Crucible, Almeida and The Blue Alabama Sky, National Theatre