By Anote Ajeluorou
Children are an investment, so reads the gospel according to some commerce-minded parents, particularly those from a certain ethnic group. What happens to the parent when the ‘product’ fails to measure up to the value placed on it? This forms the core of Quarter Eight, a play that was recently performed on three consecutive Sundays at Ethnic Heritage Centre at Raymond Njoku Street, Ikoyi, Lagos. It is a production of Kininso Koncepts, written and directed by Joshua Alabi, who used to feature prominently in Segun Adefila-led Crown Troupe of Africa. He is cutting his teeth in solo production, apparently having come of age.
Quarter Eight explores the psychology of a father whose world falls apart because the daughter he has invested his resources to educate so as to shore up his floundering business by marrying her of to some rich man deviates from the narrow path and gets pregnant. What is worse, she is unable to point out the man responsible for the pregnancy. She is today’s typical Nigerian undergraduate who feels the world is at her feet and the only way to claim it is go on promiscuous rampage.
We see Chief (Opeyemi Dada), an Igbo businessman, going after his debtor (who, sadly, we don’t get to see, a stream the writer or director fails to pursue to the end), at a seedy residence at Quarter Eight, where a policeman and a Corper (Oye Aribilola) and Mama Aduke also reside. Chief’s pretty daughter Amara (Bodurin Afolabi), an undergraduate, accompanies him and later delivers his meal and drinks to aid his long wait for his debtor who doesn’t appear. But the action shifts quickly and Chief is negotiating with a certain Alhaji for Amara’s hand in marriage and inventing all manner of lies to fleece him of money.
Amara is angry with her father for the arrangement because she is in love with the Corper, a love that is yet to be consummated because the Corper is careful to make it platonic even, as Amara appears eager to push it full hilt. Chief’s accusation, directed at the Corper of having, “Erection without direction” sounds hollow; he should have reserved it for his amorous lawyer (Aniefiok Inyang) friend.
But Amara’s case is somewhat different and pathetic; unknowingly, she is a victim of men’s rapacious libido. She falls a victim, first to his father’s lawyer who rapes her and then the Policeman (Jubril Gbadamosi) to whom Amara turns to for possible redress, but who ends up also forcibly having his way with her. This happens at the police station to complete Amara’s terrible encounter with men.
She is attracted to the Corper, a young man her age, who shows uncommon understanding of her plight and for whom she is ready to defy her father who is bent on marrying her off to a rich man for financial gain. When it eventually comes to light that Amara is pregnant, Chief’s world falls apart, but it is the Corper who resolves the mystery. But this doesn’t happen until the lawyer and the policeman have pushed Amara and the Corper to the wall. It is common knowledge that Amara is the Corper’s girlfriend and so Amara’s pregnancy is easily attributed to him. But when he spills the beans, the lawyer, the policeman and Chief are stunned. So, too, Mama Aduke, a Quarter Eight residence, who comes to learn also that her own daughter Aduke has also fallen to the sexual wiles and schemes of the lawyer and the policeman.
Quarter Eight is conceived as a hilarious comedy portraying the foibles of a seedy residence with wolves for men. It is a tremendous effort from young Alabi, who is obviously chatting a direction for his outfit, but there is restrained energy in the performance struggling to be let itself loose. The scene changes appear too frequently even if they were spiced with peppery music to keep the audience’s attention. Although, of course, understandably, the stage, situated in the open lawn courtyard, isn’t the best performance setting to perform a play. But the actors made the most of it nonetheless.
No doubt, Ethnic Heritage Centre though small, has come on stream, as a culture centre. It’s left to be seen what content it has to pull Lagos’ art aficionado to itself. Quarter Eight is obviously a small step in that direction.