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A feast of performances at Oguntokun’s Theatre Republic

By Anote Ajeluorou   |   16 October 2016   |   4:19 am
A scene from Chinweizu’s The Divorce of Lawino and Ochol performed by Crown Troupe of Africa at Theatre Repulic last week... in Lekki, Lagos

A scene from Chinweizu’s The Divorce of Lawino and Ochol performed by Crown Troupe of Africa at Theatre Repulic last week… in Lekki, Lagos

Theatre Republic, Lekki, Lagos, the newly opened performance spot of Mr. Wole Oguntokun, is gradually becoming a hub for the performance arts in Lagos city. With Terra Kulture’s spot undergoing reconstruction, with the National Theatre remaining unfriendly to the arts on account of its management’s anti-artistic posture, Theatre Republic now holds the aces.

Every weekend from Thursday till Sunday, either Oguntokun’s Renegade Theatre or other performance troupes are on the wooden stage doing their stuff. Recently, Kininso Concepts, led by Mr. Joshua Alabi, and only last weekend, famous Crown Troupe of Africa, led by Mr. Segun Adefila, was at Theatre Republic to perform Chinweizu’s The Divorce of Lawino and Ochol.

Late last month, Oguntokun’s Renegade Theatre staged the absurdist play, The Waiting Room. In the classic tradition of absurdist theatre, four different people, with varying backgrounds, receive information to converge on a spot, a waiting room. They arrive but there is no one to receive them. So, they wait and the wait turns out an endless one until they begin to sense that something is wrong. They realise they are trapped and cannot get out. Then they realise it’s an elimination game, the game of life, of the jungle, where the smartest, the meanest wins among the four – two men and two women.

Cloistered in one spot, as they do, they begin to give expression to their understanding of what life means, their perception about life, its jungle philosophy. In fact, the choices they face and how they overcome are summed up in what destiny throws at them. To unravel the mystery of their strange invitation and come to an understanding of why they have to fight it out for survival, they realise they have to look inwards. They realise the mystery is to look at the content of their invitation, which contains specific directions to aid them out of their misery of waiting in vain for the host that may not come after all.

Finally, they are instructed to look into a container as resolution of the mystery of their invitation. When they do, they find a prize, a gun. Whoever is first to grab it has the nasty duty of eliminating the others in a roulette-like manner. The four – Kera (Motunde Sogunle), Aduke (Sunkanmi), Don Flex (Toju Ejoh) and Keshi (Olarotimi Fakunle) – all come prepared. Don Flex first makes for the gun and grabs it, but when he holds the others at gunpoint, the others pull out their guns as well to create a stalemate.

Then the madness begins. They shoot at teach other, but Aduke seems to come out tops until Kera fixes her before she has the last laugh and walks away with unnamed prize…

Although hard to connect, Oguntokun also creates a sub-plot to the theme of destiny and the meaninglessness that sometimes characterises life in the foregoing. Keshi and Kera, husband and wife, also act out their own melodrama. Although they appear the regular husband and wife, they have dark motives towards each other. While Kera had supported her husband in his struggling days, their having made fortune becomes the source of evil designs for each other.

They have taken a huge life insurance – N50 million; they now scheme to eliminate each other for the premium. However, they have allies for their evil designs. Keshi’s girlfriend is Aduke; he hopes to marry her when his wife would have been killed. He asks her to get a contract killer. Unknowingly to Keshi, Aduke arranges with her boyfriend, Don Flex (a notorious criminal), to do the job. Meanwhile, Kera secretly has eyes on Don Flex as getaway when her husband is gone. It gets even more complicated that Aduke and Kera are sisters and plan to eliminate Keshi and Don Flex and make away with the premium. But a seed of discord is sown to thwart all the designs.

Theirs is the life of greed and dark thoughts and the personal annihilation they court for themselves.

On the other hand, Chinweizu’s The Divorce of Lawino and Ochol, as performed by Crown Troupe of Africa last weekend, presented a fresh insight into the old argument about how western lifestyles are daily displacing African traditional value systems. Okot p’Bitek’s two poetry collections – Song of Lawino and Song of Ochol – sum up the arguments, between encroaching western civilization and receding African systems. Indeed, it is about a cherished but vanishing cultural past and the gaudiness of an externality coming into play to displace old systems and the consequent tensions that result.

And in keeping with his tradition of defending Africa’s past and all its wholesome value systems, Chinweizu makes a fine point for its preservation, but he makes concessions, nonetheless, for the harmonious co-existence of both. That is the case the wife, Lawino, makes while Ochol insists on a total breakaway from the past that seems to hamper his quest to hastily bring the future into being.

Having become educated, Ochol does not want anything to do with the wife he married as a young man and with whom he has children. Lawino is too backward and steeped in the old ways of doing things, too primitive for his western, educated taste. He wants a new wife, who is also educated like him, who represents the new, uncertain future, who will go to party and dance waltz with him, who can cook with modern gadgets and not firewood, etc.

In the spirit of polygamy, Lawino is ready to accommodate Ochol’s new wife. But the girl will have none of it; her western training is monogamy or nothing else. When she insults Lawino in her own house and rejects her proposition of sharing Ochol as husband, Lawino pounces on her and exposes her for all she is – a sham of a girl. Everything about her is fake – fake hair (wig), something old African women wouldn’t touch. Ochol is too stunned by Lawino’s vehemence to help her.

In the end, Lawino, the rightful owner of the house, prevails in keeping her home. And in typical western style, Ochol and his western heartthrob have to move elsewhere to make a life togethe
WITH the vision to inspire and advance excellence in Nigeria’s diverse dance, music and drama, International Festival of Contemporary Dance (IFCOD) made its maiden outing in the ‘Garden City,’ Port Harcourt, as part of Nigeria’s 56th Independence anniversary celebration. With ‘Inspiring a New Era in the Performing Arts’ as theme, the festival featured the famous South African dance Africa Umoja, widely acclaimed for its award-winning choreography, energetic jaw dropping dance styles that has been performed in well over 50 countries and still counting.

It was all excitement, euphoria and shouts of exhilaration as the Todd Twala and Thembi Nyandeni led Africa Umoja dancers lit the stage last Thursday night with eclectic dance steps in a two-hour riveting performance, peppered with rich soulful South African melodies. The Aztech Arcum stage, with its digitalised background, literarily shook to the stumps of the dancers, as they demonstrated passion, verve, zest and dexterity before an enraptured audience, comprising the who-is-who in show business, politics and industry in Rivers State.

From the opening night on Tuesday, October 5, to its closing, theatre lovers in the city were treated to heartwarming repertoire of enthralling performances. It was a festival that left the audience on the edge of their seats as thespians from the Arts Village, University of Port Harcourt, thrilled the audience with inspiring interpretations from the play, Dance of the Rivers, written by Professor Julie Okoh and directed by Mr. Dan Kpodoh.

The play with its seemingly literary allusion to Lenrie Peters famous poem, ‘We Have Come Home,’ reawakens a nostalgic consciousness in African citizens in the Diaspora, particularly those from the Niger Delta, to think of returning to the fatherland to contribute to nation building. It also underscores, the ‘Spirit of togetherness,’ which the South African dance proposes, as the elixir for sustaining a vibrant economy.

While speaking on the impact of the festival on the theatre industry in Port Harcourt and Nigeria, choreographer and theatre director, Kpodoh said, “IFCOD is a brilliant idea that will help showcase our culture, create employment, engage and take the youths off the streets. Little or nothing is known about the city when it comes to entertainment; it is a fight for recognition in the entertainment world and it stands as an avenue for the gathering of giants, where upcoming directors like myself can stand a chance to make a statement.”

The festival created opportunities for aspiring young minds and creatively endowed individuals in the city to attend workshops, classes in filmmaking, photography, stage construction and other fields of the arts. Nigeria’s leading compere extraordinaire, Mrs. Joyce Daniels of Talkademy spiced up the festival with her presentation.

Side attractions at the festival included an exhibition of fashion wears, accessories, mementoes and a gamut of designs made from African fabrics by different entrepreneurs. Apart from this, Orachoice Cocktails and Smoothies showcased its fruit drinks and lots more.

The International Dance Festival was held in partnership with Rivers State Government, the National Television Authority, Africa Independent Television, GOtv, NBC and major broadcasting stations across the country that supported the festival.

* Joel Cicero, an actor and writer, lives in Port Harcourt

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