Lorkase sues for peace and unity in The Journey To One
There seems to be no stopping the theatrical renaissance budding across Nigeria. Even the Federal Capital Territory. Abuja, notorious for her ‘dullness’ cultural and entertainment offerings, is gradually exhibiting a big appetite for the arts, especially theatre.
This appetite is being matched by theatrical performances akin to Lagos state, and if the energetic, colourful and excellent interpretation of Oliver Iorkase’s play The Journey to One recently performed at NTA Arena is indicative of the theatrical pie to be served the city’s growing drama appetite, then the future is indeed juicy for theatre practitioners and lovers alike.
The play was sponsored by Festival for African Arts, Culture and Technology (FAACT) and produced by Colour Africa, in collaboration with Nigerian Television Authority, DÉCOR Light, Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) and Fahimta Literary Discourse, featured Nollywood stars like Ireti Doyle, Lala Akindoju, Kayode Adebusi aka Sir K and sixty young and energetic cast. It ran for three days.
Sitting under the bright skies, which was illuminated by the full moon and twinkling stars, the producers of the show got it right when they decided to stage an open-air theatre. “It brought memories of my childhood in the village, when our grandmother used to tell us stories at night,” enthused a 60-year old theatre lover, Dr. Samuel Imande, who attended the show twice.
The Journey to One is an intriguing, fictional epic love story woven around ethnic, political and historical differences between three nations – Ibotoro, Fua and Orin, which are bitter enemies. Yondale, played by Korade Ajayi, a peasant of the rich Orin nation, commits treason and abomination by falling in love with Princess Mshila, played by Lala Akindoju, who also falls madly in love with Yondale. Her mother, the tyrannical queen Omineza, played by Ireti Doyle, swears to destroy him and his family. Yondale flees from Orin to Ibotoro nation for refuge.
The play opens at the Ikembawe centre in Ibotoro nation with energetic dances and rhythmic movements matching the powerful African drumbeats that leaves no one in doubt that the rest of the night portended an experience of epic dramatic proportion spiced with music. It is at the Ikembawe that Ifynna, played by Christie Akerejola, the beautiful warrior princess of Ibotoro meets Yondale, who is in Ibotoro in disguise, and falls in love with him. This sets the plot for a love triangle between Yondale, princess Mshila and Ifynna.
After the energetic opening of dances, acting and narration, the play experiences a rather extended lull with more acting and less music and dance. Perhaps, this is a major fault in an otherwise excellent performancd for an audience that had been spoilt with such fast-pace and exciting opening. It was clear the director, Hilda Harrison, tried to compress a robust story of many plots and suspense without losing the essence of the story within reasonable time.
After the ‘lull moment,’ the play bursts into life again as more music and dance complement excellent acting and rises to a crescendo when the three nations, which otherwise would never see eye-to-eye except in war, are inadvertently forced to the negotiating table by Yondale at the Planes of Mogido.
Yondale is a peasant, who is convinced that his only chance of being close to Princess Mshila is to gain an uncommon significance and power.
His personal quest comes at a time when the Fua and Ibotoro nations are experiencing a devastating famine. Yondale figures out that the survival of each nation depends on all three nations co-existing as one. An incredibly difficult mission but he reckons that if he can pull it off, he will gain the prominence he needs to be with the princess.
Armed with an iron-clad will to succeed, Yondale transforms himself into an Ibotoro citizen and then a Fua citizen by learning their languages, dances, traditions and ways of life. This way he believes he can fit into all three nations. In the process, he is a genuinely changed man, who truly believes that co-existence is possible. Yondal carried the audience along with his trials and his pains could be felt as he genuinely connects with audience at an emotional level.
As the story progresses on, it becomes clear that The Journey to One is a microcosm of Nigeria, where 250 ethnic groups with major differences and conflicting histories, are required to co-exist as one nation. The audience connected to the story as the story of their lives. The sacrifice Yondale has to make, the will-power to win and the transformation he experiences show the audience what it will take for Nigeria to succeed as one nation.
In the end, the audience, which had become emotionally bonded with Yondale, Ifynna and Princess Mshila had to witness the resolution of their love triangle.
Yondale goes ahead to marry Princess Mshila after becoming an important man for his role in uniting the inextricably linked three nations into one. On their wedding day, with the entire kingdom present, Ifynna jumps out of the crowd behind Yondale and holds a knife to his neck.
The pleading from the king and everyone falls on deaf ears. She claims Yondale is hers and if she couldn’t marry him because of the new nation, she would marry him in the afterlife. She kills Yondale and then buries the knife into her stomach. They both die next to each other.
This twist of fate in the story is the best part and no one saw it coming. On the body of Yondale they find a message he intends to read before the nation on his wedding day: “No future is built without sacrifice, sometimes, the ultimate sacrifice!”
The tragic end to the story leaves a bitter taste in the mouth, but the message is clear. The Journey to One is not fast food. It is a long concoction and as the narrator says, “However long the night, the dawn will break, and at the bottom of patience, we shall find heaven!”
President of Association of Nigerian Authors, Mallam Denja Abudullahi, said after the peerformance: “Art, literature and the theatre contain the aesthetics of integration in our world that is constantly pulled apart by a kaleidoscope of differences. The Journey to One is a play that deploys the devices of the tested African total theatre to tell a tale of unity that will bring about the Nigeria of our dreams!”
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