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Groundbreaking innings in court

MAYER WAKEFIELD is bowled over by the life of music buff and cricket fanatic Tunji Sowande, Britain’s first black judge

Just an Ordinary Lawyer Theatro Technis London NW1 4/5

IT’S a surprise that the remarkable life of Britain’s first black judge Tunji Sowande has not been dramatised before.

Luckily, writer and performer Tayo Aluko does a quite unbelievable job of retelling Sowande’s story in this superb one-man show.

Aluko’s last show focused on the life of singer and activist Paul Robeson and in Sowande he has chosen an equally fascinating subject.

Leaving his family behind in Nigeria, he arrived in London at the age of 33 to study law.

The overt racism of the time temporarily prevented him from being called to the bar. When called for an interview at one chambers he is told to get “a good English name” or “return to BongoBongo land.”

Undeterred, he went on to enjoy a distinguished legal career but that’s only half the story.

Sowande had two great passions, music and cricket, and he pursued them with his characteristically fervent energy.

Aluko manages to weave both into the show by honing in on the tumultuous year of 1968. Civil war was raging in Sowande’s homeland and it seemed like it could erupt in the US at any time following the assassination of Martin Luther King.

But Sowande’s main focus was watching Basil D’Oliveira, a “Cape Coloured” South African “firing 168 bullets” into the apartheid regime via a magnificent innings for England at the Oval.

Aluko’s booming baritone brings great life to a fantastic range of songs that punctuate the action perfectly throughout although, at times, he might have greater trust in his audience’s imaginations as he describes every story in utmost detail.

Yet it is no easy task for one actor to fill Theatro Technis’s cavernous space and Aluko manages it with consummate ease.

Credit must also go to director Amanda Huxtable, who never allows the action to become static and keeps it brimming with decisive energy.

This is an extraordinary tribute to an extraordinary life and comes highly recommended.

Runs until January 28, box office: theatrotechnis.com

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