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Rock Of Ages… Showing resilience in the face of crises

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A scene from the play

According to the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible, ‘to every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven… a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted… time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.’ This is reflective of the success story of the Cathedral Church of Saint Jude that recently celebrated its 150 years of existence. And to celebrate this sesquicentennial, a docu-drama titled, Rock of Ages, was presented to the public at Agip Recital Hall, MUSON Centre, Lagos.

Written by the duo of Lanre Idowu and Ben Tomoloju, Rock of Ages traces the early story of Egba Christians, who were persecuted and sent out of Abeokuta by worshippers of African religion on October 13, 1867. Led by Apena (Joshua Akinola), the idol worshippers see Christianity as a strange and foreign religion that would not only convert their loyalists, but also change their local practices and introduce beliefs that would alter the society. Owing to this, the adherents of traditional religion fight and chase away the followers of this foreign religion from Abeokuta before it gains ground.

Not prepared for the battle, the Egba Christians, mostly artisans and farmers, hinge their fate on Jesus Christ, insisting that it’s inappropriate to fight the locals, and as such relocate to Ebute-Metta, where they set up a centre to worship their living God with other Christians. As the congregation increases in number, the need for expansion arises, making church members to look for land to construct a befitting place of worship. This, however, causes a rift between the Egba Christians and their host Christians, the Saros.

However, instead of the division tearing the fellowship and church apart, it leads to each aggrieved party going to establish their own branch of the church, which in a way, induces growth and aggressive evangelism.

With the backing of the narrator, Williams Ekpo, who gives a blow-by-blow account of the Christians’ travails, the cast vividly replicated the events, making the aged among the audience, who heard the story firsthand from those involved, to reflect on the past with nostalgia and, also for the youths to appreciate the efforts of their predecessors in the faith.

The cast showed mastery and interpreted their roles approriately. Kudos should go to Uzoma Thaddeus Madu (Rev. Hamley), who despite the laughter induced by the nuances of the translator (Thomas Olayinka Ayuba-Igbagboyemi) maintained a sombre expression all through.

Aside this, maybe for the economy or management of space, the director, Tomoloju, creatively employed multiple role-play method to interpret some of the scenes. This could be seen in some of the cast, including Olawande Bada (woman/lead singer), Pelumi Lawal (Sodeke /Daddy Sogunle) and others taking on two or three characters. While this has no negative effect on the story, as the cast navigated the different roles given, it shows the ingenuity of the director and proof that one does need a whole town of cast to put a docu-drama of this dimension on stage.

While the effort is commendable, one must not fail to point out that the costumes did not reflect the times in question. Abeokuta’s tye and dye and other woven textile costumes indigenous to the people would have been ideal to reflect the period in question. Though the one used reflected the Yoruba attire, it is, in fact, one of the modern kampalas.

Also Pelumi Lawal was in the same costume, while playing Sodeke and Daddy Sogunle. This leads to a mix up of the two characters except that he was called by name. A proper cast differentiation with costume and scene are necessary. Further, the makeup was confusing; the audience struggled with which Christians moved from Abeokuta to Lagos or those that were already in Ebute-Metta, as some of them were in their late youth, whereas the group comprised of children, youth and the elderly. Although the play was well presented, it never reflected these categories of people. As a play that talks about the movement of a group of people, there was need to reflect the diversity of age to create the right mood for some of the actions in the play.

Despite these shortcomings, the big lesson remains that the intrigues, mudslinging, infighting and other unwholesome happenings in the church today are not new, and they would never stop the church from marching on. It’s also a reminder for being mindful of the times and know when to relocate to another place as the Lord leads, as seen in the story of St Jude that was chased out of Abeokuta 150 years ago. It has given rise to many churches in Lagos, including numerous primary and secondary schools and hospitals that are linked to the church. The moral of Rock of Ages is that man does not need to fight for or on behalf of God!


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Ben TomolojuRock of Ages

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