Just An Ordinary Lawyer is a one-man show from Tayo Aluko, who also wrote and starred in Call Mr Robeson, about the life and experiences of Nigerian Tunji Sowande, the first black lawyer in Britain. However, the play also chronicles events such as apartheid in South Africa, specifically the controversy over the inclusion of Cape Coloured Basil D’Oliveria on the touring England cricket team to South Africa in 1968, and the suppression of the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya during the 1950s that impacts Sowande in an important court case where he realises the British government’s complicity in the affair.
The play, written by Aluko, also provides a vivid description of the “Black Power salute” protest at the 1968 Mexico Olympics by the black American athletes John Carlos and Tommie Smith, as well as noting the involvement of colonialism in defining the conflicts in Africa post-independence such as the Biafran war, which Sowande notes was the result of Britain lumping various ethnicities together into a single Nigerian colony.
However, this doesn’t overshadow Sowande’s story, which skilfully encompasses the multiple dimensions of the real-life figure on his journey from frustrated chemist in Nigeria to idealistic law student/singer to a highly-regarded barrister who not only encouraged greater representation for ethnic minority lawyers in Britain but also became a member of the MCC Cricket Club.
The racism Sowande experienced on this path is also highlighted, with his first rejection to work as a lawyer on the grounds of race not only diminishing his great expectations of Britain, but also showing how colonialism influenced his upbringing. A recurring motif concerning a childhood cricket lesson on fair play is also cleverly used to illustrate a later encounter Sowande has with the man who rejected him all these years ago.
The play places great thematic importance on cricket, not only allowing Aluko to physically express the expertise of cricketers such as D’Oliveria, but also further emphasising the impact of British colonialism on postwar Commonwealth immigrants such as Sowande. Aluko gives a powerful and charismatic performance as Sowande, using his powerful singing voice to great effect in depicting his musical talents, providing renditions of songs such as a Yoruba hymn and I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free that receive applause from the audience every time.
Just An Ordinary Lawyer is a powerful, informative and captivating show that not only chronicles the story of a British pioneer but also of important milestones in modern Black history.