By Anote Ajeluorou
Among the pandemics that afflicted mankind in recent memory HIV/AIDS is perhaps the one with the longest and lasting span of life. While campaigns against it may appear muted for now, it does not mean the pandemic is over. It just means that there are new ways of looking at it. While HIV/AIDS may not be the overnight killer it was a few years ago, knowledge through accurate information about it is still key to beating it.
This much was the message in a stage adaptation of a novel Promise of the Future performed on Sunday at Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagos. It is written by University of Lagos’ medical student, Miss Towunmi Coker, whose Teecoks Literary Initiative seeks to propagate reading habit among Nigerians. Directed by Segun Adefila and performed by his Crown Troupe of Africa, Promise of the Future operates on many fronts in informing viewers/readers alike on the need to secure the future for the collective good of all with informed choices.
Ajoke’s parents suddenly meet an untimely death through generator explosion in their home. This leaves Ajoke and her brother, Ademola, orphans. Ajoke is taken in by one of his father’s business friends, Arinze. This brings her into collision with the madam of the house who puts her through all manner of hardships as a house-help, who is not given any quarter to breathe. Her education is aborted and she lives a life of misery. Her father hadn’t written a will before his death. Arinze does nothing to intervene on Ajoke’s behalf, whom his wife rechristens Celestina.
In fact, Arinze actually takes advantage of Ajoke to inflict sexual torture on her; she becomes his sex slave whenever he is at home from his many business travels. He has a concubine in Abuja; in fact, Arinze has a string of sexual relationships. He contacts HIV and infests his wife and Ajoke with it.
But before this, Ajoke’s thirst for education has remained. This she is able to assuage with the help of the neighbours’ children. She teams up with them in the little time she has to study. She puts in for the external examination and passes. As luck would have it Ajoke runs into an aunt of hers, who had been looking for her since her parents death. She is shocked to learn of Ajoke’s condition, but she tells her she is her father’s next of kin and is the inheritor of her father’s wealth in shares in companies and bank accounts.
Ajoke is ecstatic; she quickly writes matriculation examinations and enters university. On graduation she learns of her status as HIV positive she is crestfallen. But Johnny is undaunted and proposes to marry her. She doesn’t find it funny, but when the doctor intervenes to explain to her that if she sticks to the use of prescribed drugs, neither her husband nor her unborn children would run any risk of contacting HIV/AIDS, she eventually agrees to marry Johnny. Their first attempt produces a set of twins to their collective joy.
The lesion is precise. Parents, particularly fathers, need to write their wills as early as possible to secure the future of their children or loved ones. Ajoke nearly lost in all as a result, as all her relations abandon her after the parents’ funeral. Also, HIV/AIDS is not a death sentence, as it was previously believed. If the cocktail regimen of drugs is strictly followed, chances of living a normal life is possible; a woman having it can have a normal sexual life, and not infect her husband or her children. Such accurate knowledge, Coker, who should know as a medical student, considers key to combating the virus and removing the stigma and fear associated with the disease.
As a performance piece, Promise of the Future is a challenging play, but the Adefila-led troupe did well to piece together a disparate narrative and dramatic piece. The troupe deployed multi-character narrative technique to tell the story. In fact, the bulk of performance rested with the narrators, who combined it with the skeletal main cast to give interpretation to the play. As typical with Crown Troupe, the use of multiple narrative personalities who were inter-changeling in roles, made the play tick. But it would sometimes seem that there’s just a bit over use of the technique in the overlaps that sometimes occurred.
Perhaps, fewer narrators would have sufficed. While their appearance among the audience is somewhat innovative, the seemingly dense lines sometimes got in the way. Then enunciation by some of the actors cropped up. ‘H’ as in ‘house’, ‘have’ often gives most children brought up in Lagos problem to pronounce as they often omit it; it happened frequently on the night.
However, overall Promise of the Future was worth the time. Attendance, too, was impressive. As first play to be performed this year, such attendance signaled good things to come to the theatre this year. It is hoped they will keep faith with live theatre to really grow this sector of cultural expression.