Sunday, 10 January 2016

Trending Nigerian Politics With Kakadu, Wakaa At New Year

By Anote Ajeluorou

SUDDENLY, the glory days of Nigerian theatre were brought back again as MUSON Centre, Onikan, Lagos, swarmed with audiences starting from December 29, 2015 through January 3, 2016 for Uche Nwokedi’s Kakadu and Bolanle Austin-Peters’ Wakaa. The two Broadway-style Musical Theatres became the perfect way to end a year on a high note of excellence in cultural production.
  With the absence of functional theatre elsewhere in the city of Lagos, MUSON became a mecca for culture lovers who had a dose of immersion in the magic of dance, songs and drama the two productions provided ardent fans. For once it was evident that the theatre, when properly managed and executed the way Austin-Peters and Nwokedi did with their products, could be a huge business opportunity just beckoning for the daring investors. Wakaa’s 11 shows and Kakadu’s equal number of shows had the halls sold out. By Saturday, January 2, fans were being turned away as all available seats in the halls had been sold out for both productions.
  For MUSON Shell Hall to accommodate more people, Austin-Peters’ BAP Productions had to erect an elevated terrace from half the hall backwards for audiences to see Wakaa. Event at that, many still couldn’t find seats and had to resort to standing just to see the electrifying show. At Kakadu, fans were begging to buy VIP tickets on Saturday, but it was too late as seats were no longer available even for the highest bidders. The Sunday, January 3 had also been sold out. These two performances showed how hungry Lagosians are for well made live performances that are also massively promoted to engender interest.
  Kakadu took the audience back to Nigeria’s independence in 1960s and the five years immediately following the euphoria of self-rule. Kakadu nightclub was where it happened for those with a taste for the good life went to unwind. The buoyant mood, the music, the women, the dance and the camaraderie all made Kakadu the prime fun spot. Even Osahon (Samuel Tom) from the hinterland is soon sucked into the vortex of Kakadu enchanting lifestyle and would easily have been lost in its web but for the timely advice by its manager/owner, Lugard Da Rocha (Benneth Ogbeiwi) who tells him that in Lagos, “The only champion is ‘Lagos’”.
  However, in spite of the optimism Nigeria’s independence generated, signs of a crack among the political elite had begun to be visible from newspaper reports. Reports of corruption were rife, with Emeka (Joseph Okoro) expressing concerns on the way the ship of state had begun to drift. The stage was set for the inevitable political upheaval that would break out barely six years later in a bloody civil war. Emeka and his family and many others from Eastern Region and Cross Rivers had to flee Lagos for safety to their ancestral homelands.
  When the war ends, Emeka and his kith and kin are left to count their horrendous losses – in loved ones and property. Meanwhile, the war had inflicted deep wounds on the national psyche, with distrust now a national pastime. Emeka’s heartthrob, Bisi (Damilare Kuku), has a hard time convincing his father for an inter-tribal marriage with Emeka. But their love prevails and they marry, as a small sign of a bright future awaiting the country.
  In fact, there are as many narrative dimensions to the war as there were characters involved in the war. Eno (Theodora Onoapojo) from the Calabar region certainly has a story to tell, too, just like Emeka on whose ancestral land the battle for the survival of a nascent country raged for three long years. Inevitably, he sustains the greatest casualty. His mother and many others were bombed to death in a refugee camp.
  ‘This nation is a vessel in expedition. Where we go, we do not know,’ a line from one of the characters of Kakadu, encapsulates Nigeria’s condition from 1970 when the war ended. But where has Nigeria’s journey led so far? Certainly not the destination the citizens desire. 45 years on, the country appears drifting; conditions that led to the avoidable war are still prevalent. What must be done? This is the sum total of the musical theatre beyond the blitz of the entertainment it provided.
  Bad as it is, Nwokedi infuses a song of hope and optimism in the narrative in the enchanting song that ends the performance. It is also a question mark: ‘where do we go having arrived here as a people who have been trampled under foot by those who believe the country is their private estate?’

INDEED, more than the blitz of performance, stage magic and entertainment generated, Kakadu and Wakaa turned out politically engaging pieces of theatre. Kakadu’s polemics is assured, with its politics of war and how Nigeria has failed to move progressively forward since independence with the ghost of the war impeding development. While Kakadu digs at the ground norm of the country’s political failiure from foundation, Wakaa takes the politics to the present with its dirty nature characterised by pervasive corruption.
  Four young people leave university and set out on a journey into careers that finally define them for what they are. Tosan (Patrick Dibuah) is the would-be politician who wants to clean up the stable; his uncle Governor Sagay (Bimbo Manuel) is the typical corrupt politician who sees politics as ‘a game of chop-I-chop, a game of thrones’ and appropriates state’s funds for personal uses; Tosan sees it as his duty to oust him from power for good things to happen to his state. Governor Sagay’s political protégé Tosan is the man poised to do so when he breaks away from him after confirming evidence of his uncle’s graft.
  He teams up his friend Ngozi (Ade Laoye) who runs a child development centre and her benefactor Cletus (Chris Ubani) who gladly help him with his political ambition. Cletus gives Tosan a platform to win elections and run a clean government to change the political dynamics away from the rut undermining the country’s development.
  Nevertheless, the political leanings of these two musicals are seamlessly woven into the fabrics of the narratives and audiences were made to assimilate the politics along with the stage magic engendered.
  Both performances gave Lagosians and Nigerians something heavy to chew. They were not just run-of-the-mill performances; the satire in them is palpable. But it wasn’t just politics either. Kakadu and Wakaa exemplified the theatre performance festival that has been missing all along in the country’s cultural calendar.
  Easter, perhaps, is the next performance date for lovers of these two theatres, especially for those who were too skeptical to see the New Year shows.

Man Talk Woman Talk… A classic treatise on gender war

By Anote Ajeluorou

There are perhaps few texts that best exemplify the eternal struggle between men and women over which sex best understands the other and what the relationship between them should be than late Prof. Ola Rotimi’s Man Talk Woman Talk. The closest perhaps are Eva Ensler’s Vagina Monologues and Wole Oguntokun’s The Tarzan Monologues that also confront the issues frontally. But the latter two are monologues that succeed in playing up only one side of the bargain and do not give the other side a chance to state its case. But Rotimi turns the tables and goes confrontational, in real life situation of a debate as is wont to happen between a man and a woman.
  As foremost academic and scholar, Rotimi adds a further pep when he decides to intellectualise the argument between man and woman by situating it in a legal content. By so doing, he is more able to provoke fierce fireworks that is sometimes irreverent, sensual, acidic, peevish and even downright abusive and also comic.
  Complete with Chairman (Opeyemi Dada) and Counselor (Omotunde Sogunle) as jury panel to hear the case of man versus woman to find out the many contentious issues between the sexes, boy (Seun Kentebe) and Girl (Abigail Nero) are locked in bitter debate as how one relates with the other and which one between them is more provocative, vulgar, aggressive, caring, loving. In plain terms, the playwright is looking at reaching a middle point so as to forge harmony between the two. As is often the case, the arguments and counter-arguments spiral out of hand to produce a sparkling dose of sheer dramatic enjoyment.
  Lovers of theatre were treated to Rotimi’s finest theatrical delivery recently at The Ethnic Heritage, Ikoyi, Lagos, when B/Rated Production staged Man Talk Woman Talk, directed by Bimbo Olurunmola to acclaim. Perhaps, one of Rotimi’s most comical plays, Man Talk Woman Talk best typifies the usual intellectual ferment on campus characterised by debates among students to bring out the best in them. Rotimi understood this and eloquently brings out among law students who must resort to the legalese of their trade to enrich the debate.
  Girl fires the first shot. Who, really, is the prostitute, between man and woman? That would seem easy enough, but Girl marshals such compelling argument to show that men are the ‘real’ prostitutes in also always soliciting for sex from women whereas women are innocent bystanders towards whom men perform the act of solicitations. But Boy responds sharply; whatever solicitations men engage from women are as a result of women’s open invitation through their revealing dress sense. Women know that men are moved by sight, what they see and women capitalize on this.
  But Girl is not convinced; why should a woman’s innocent way of dressing be viewed as invitation for sexual aggression and even violence if men’s brains are not fixed the wrong way: between their thighs instead of in their skull? Indeed, Girl argues that men are wrongly wired and through with their thighs rather than with their brains and so sees everything upside down. It is the only reason a woman’s dress form should be motivation for drooling. Besides, Girl counters that men are not blameless on the dress sense score otherwise why do men leave out a button or two to expose their manly jungle of hairy chest if it wasn’t open invitation for women to see and admire them?
  Chairman’s son’s (Austin Onuoha) invitation to tender evidence causes a stir between Counsellor and Girl, as he bursts into the ‘courtroom’ with clothes that bare all his sinews that turn the women on. If anything the scene is a win-win for both debaters: a man or woman’s bare-all dress sense is enough tempting invitation for both sexes. The clincher, however, is the way forward proposition. How can the sex war be tamed? Girl seems to have it worked out. She proposes the ‘care,’ ‘attention,’ and ‘trust’ formula. She understands that some women like the aggression in men, but she proposes it be in moderation.
  Rotimi’s Man Talk Woman Talk is serio-comic, intellectualising play that puts the actors on their toes in its provocative, energetic performance. There’s no pause or break to scene change. To score a point depends on the logic behind it. Kentebe and Nero perform excellently to win the heart of the audience on the lawn theatre at The Ethnic Heritage Centre. Chairman of the debate committee, Dada, steered proceedings expertly, comically, even if partially, to the admiration of the audience. He helped to amplify and underscore both sides of the debate for the benefit of the audience. His tending towards the Boy’s argument is understandable. Counselor, too, isn’t unbiased; she tends towards Girl’s arguments; she is a concerned party.
  Although chairman declares Boy winner on technical points, the audience went away satisfied that a great dramatic reenactment had happened before them. It was a moment to savour. It’s a piece of drama you’d wish you saw often. Bimbo Olurunmola-led B/Rated production did a great job of staging; it will do well to restage the play soon enough, but at a bigger stage for a bigger audience. Evidently, he would need sponsorship support to realise restaging Man Talk Woman Talk, one of Rotimi’s finest plays.

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Lottery Ticket… When greed taints morality

By Anote Ajeluorou

Man is a creation of acute insecurity. That is why he relies on the help of forces, sometimes supernatural, sometimes plain ordinary, beyond outside of himself just to get by. It is this interventionist reliance on outside forces that breeds in him hope for a better tomorrow so he could realise the secret dreams he constantly nurtures. This is what Ahmed Yerima conjures up in his pidgin play Lottery Ticket that was recently staged at the grass lawn theatre of The Ethnic Heritage Centre, Ikoyi, Lagos, by Joshua Alabi-led Kininso Concept Production.
  One easy way of getting lifted out of poverty could be through gambling just as it can also mire one in deep poverty as well. But lottery is usually promoted as a harmless gambling habit - raised hope for the dream money one cannot ordinarily make at a work-a-day enterprise. And so Landlord (Opeyemi Dada), Baba Tailor (Yemi Adebiyi), Yellow Fever (Oladapo Jubril), Danger (Julius Obende) and Mama Lizi (Angela Peters), are all addicted to this instant passport out of poverty. Who wins this one-in-a-lifetime instant wealth jackpot?
  Mama Lizi works hard at her restaurant with her daughter, Lizi (Bodunrin Afolabi), helping out, but Lizi is the village belle at the centre of Landlord and Danger’s erotic imagination. Landlord’s wife had abandoned him for a soldier; Landlord wants Lizi to inject new life and blood into his old veins. He needs to win to be able to stake a proper claim to Lizi. Danger is the regular street urchin called area boy who ‘collects’ what does not belong to him if he approaches you nicely and you refuse to oblige. Lizi is his woman, but he has another. He needs to win to be able to send her to Abuja and set her up in a trade, but he doesn’t want to leave Lagos. It’s the headquarters of area boys where business is booming.
  Tailor is diagnosed of so many illnesses it’s a wonder he is still alive. He’s deeply in debt and needs to settle his hospital bills and continue his treatment. He needs the lottery money more than anyone else. Mama Lizi is not left out in the jackpot dream. She wants to move to Ajegunle and set up a shop she can call her own that would give her business proper leverage away from greedy Lagos landlords.
  The stage is set. When the result is announced, Tailor wins. But at that moment of shouting out his joy, he collapses and faints. But his friends take him for dead. They are scared but act fast; Mama Lizi doesn’t want a dead man at her restaurant, so they prop him up as having fallen asleep after a heavy meal. Negotiations about who inherits Baba Tailor’s lottery ticket ensue.
  Landlord offered Tailor N50 to buy drink, but he turns round and claims it was a loan and so he is entitled to half the share of the N1 million jackpot. Others protest it, but Landlord isn’t moved. Mama Lizi also stakes her claim to the money since Baba Tailor died in her shop. Lizi is aghast; she cannot believe her mother is making such claim over a dead man’s fortune. She proposes the ticket be given to Tailor’s wife and children; her mother is furious. She disowns Lizi instantly. Danger finally stakes his claim and wants the ticket to himself aloney. A scuffle ensues; in the process, Mama Lizi hits him in the crotch. He, too, dies, and is propped up alongside Baba Tailor.
  That is when police ‘Sajent’ (Aniefiok Inyang) comes into the restaurant in a manhunt for Danger for beating up Baba Tailor’s apprentice, Lasisi; he also wants Baba Tailor for questioning as well. When he finds the two slumped over in a chair, he gets suspicious. However, with N10,000 he promises not to hang the deaths on the heads of Landlord, Mama Lizi and Lizi. But just when he returns to pick up the bodies, Baba Tailor wakes and demands for his lottery ticket. And they all freeze in fear; their greed is thwarted, as the rightful owner has come to claim his lottery win.
  Although a hilarious play and the actors did their best to lift it, it isn’t Yerima’s best play. It drags ever so often for the most part and the comedy doesn’t always come off as intended. Danger over-exaggerates his part. Or is it the pidgin that is the stumbling block? Would it have fared better had it been written in proper English? Just perhaps!

Saturday, 2 January 2016

What Will People Say?... A Family’s Bitter Irony Unravels

By Anote Ajeluorou

How do families react to scandals? Why do families fear scandals? Importantly, how do families avoid scandals from breaking among their ranks? Indeed, what armour should families wield against the possibility of scandals breaking? The fear of a scandal tainting the Fouries family seems the beginning of wisdom, and particularly for the mother, Magda, who, fueled by her religious obsession, drives her family to the brink. Her one obsession is ‘what will people say?’ Ironically, things, bad things, happen right under her nose.
  This is the story of the Fouries family in a Cape Town, South African, housing estate for coloured, poor community, Hanover Park where gang wars and drug problems are rife. Rehana Rossouw’s What Will People Say? (Jacana Media Pty Ltd, Cape Town; 2015) is one of the three shortlisted novels for the Etisalat Prize for (African) Literature 2015 that will be awarded sometime in next month. Rossouw delicately maps the lives of the Fouries – the father, Neville, the mother, Magda, the elder daughter, Suzette, the second, Nickky and the only son, Anthony. Neville was raised in an orphanage and saw firsthand how the priests molested the boys and he vows to raise a proper family. Magda lost her parents early and had to cater for herself and her only sister, Violet. Both parents bear the ugly imprint of childhood; they fear their past and determine to steer their children away from its ugliness.
  But herein lies their error. Neville is liberal enough and would give the children some space provided they study hard to realize the dreams the parents had lined up for them. But the mother, Magda, is a different proposition. Unlike her husband who abhors church because of what he saw of the white priests that handled his orphanage, Magda is sold completely to her religion and rules her home with the sternness of a puritan. She overrules her husband in almost every aspect.
  As the children grow older, they begin to find ways to circumvent their parents’ rules and steer different courses for themselves that soon bring them in collision with their parents and then lands the entire family deeply into the scandal the mother desperately wants to avoid. First is the big sister for whom school is a struggle; she wants to drop out and find work. Her mother’s condemnation of half naked girls modeling in the factory where she works provides further incentive although she knows she’d be in real trouble if she should voice her ambition to her parents. Suzette wants to be a model, but she knows her mother would raise hell.
  Anthony, just 13, has attracted the attention of a gang in the neighbourhood, Junky Funky Kids (JFK) led by Ougat and his minions. His sheben (beer parlour) is the meeting point; he deals drugs of all types. When Anthony finally shows up at Ougat’s sheben, the 13-year old, bored with school, does not know he has walked into the lion’s den much against his father’s warning. He takes the gang leader as the older brother he does not have. Anthony becomes Ougat’s drug carrier, delivering drugs strapped in his school bag to avoid suspicion. When it’s time for him to be inducted properly into the gang, Anthony finds it’s not the sort of life he wants to live. But it’s too late.
  Nicky is the star in the family, but who is burdened by the secrets of her two siblings – Suzette and Anthony. Suzette drops out of school, but Nicky does not tell her parents; although Anthony does not return home directly from school Nicky does not tell her parents. And when the hurricane of Suzette and Anthony’s actions hits the family, Nicky is blamed for keeping a sealed lip. When Suzette’s school report comes and her parents find out she didn’t take the exams, hell breaks loose. Her mother throws her out for modeling under-wears for strangers to stare at her naked body. She sees her daughter as a whore. Suzette is unrepentant and leaves home. She has hit a white boyfriend and things happen fast for her. Her dream of being a supermodel isn’t long off.
  Although Anthony does not want to belong to any gang, Ougat and his JFK gang aren’t the sort of guys to mess with. Anthony has no say in the matter; he has earned his place in Ougat’s schemes. At the initiation, JFK is branded on his arm; Nicky’s friend is dragged in for him and the gang to rape to complete his initiation. After the dastardly act, 13-year old Anthony can’t seem to live with the enormity of the abomination he has been made to commit. He loses his power of speech until Ougat supervises his murder for failing to live up as a JFK member.
  His murder breaks the family into pieces, and Hanover park as well. Even Suzette comes back home to grieve with her family. Neville and Magda feel acute sense of failure as parents; they get at each other for the tragedy, and take it out on poor Nicky. At Anthony’s funeral, things fall apart, as Pastor Williams condemns gangs in the neighbourhood and Anthony’s parents for their failure to provide proper guidance for their children. Indeed, the very scandal that Magda fears is blown open in church to the entire world. She has nowhere to hide her head; she sleepwalks through it all.
  At the end, things turn a fine bend for Magda’s two daughters, Nicky and Suzette, even as Magda divorces her husband…
  What Will People Say? is an intense piece of writing and Rossouw invests an incredibly believable nuance in the narrative. Magnolia Courts and its gang- and drug-infested neighbourhood comes alive in this magnificent story that sheds light in Apartheid South Africa shortly before Nelson Mandela is elected as first democratic president. Gang wars, drugs, the country’s struggling poor and the liberation ferment and freedom fighters’ clashes with the police and the law pepper the atmosphere of Rossouw’s narrative. Her story gives a rare insider glimpse into the life of South Africa in the throes of political change. The Fouries family also provides a stark backdrop on which Rossouw paints an incredible tale of a country in ferment.