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.