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Bishop Bassey… Theatrics of Gbilekaa’s return




For one, who has been away for eight years from the University to serve as Chief of Staff to the former Governor of Benue State, Gabriel T. Suswam, it was a home coming of sort for Prof. Saint Gbilekaa, watching the performance of one of his creative offerings.

The 300 level students of the Department of Theatre Arts, University of Abuja, staged the play, Bishop Bassey, at the Open Air Theatre, Gwagwalada recently.

The play treats unemployment among Nigerian youths, which needs urgent attention. It is a riveting story on Bassey, an unemployed university graduate, who resorts to creating one for himself. He sets up a church with his friend Dede, but as the Church begins to thrive, he decides to keep all the proceedings from the Church. He is assassinated eventually.

The play without the playwright providing a clue as to what happened to Bassey’s wife after the demise of the husband. Did she continue with the church business or not? Perhaps, Gbilekaa may one day provide answer.

Beyond the script, the performance was a vintage production from 300 level students. It was a director’s show. Roseline Yacim, the director, in just an hour, provided a theatrical expression that was not just contemporaneous, but simple.

“We decided on a very simple text (script) but with relevant meaning to the audience. Bassey’s creative idea should be seen as an inspiration. We are not saying people should follow suit by establishing churches because of offering collection but I can tell you that these things are really happening. So, we decided to echo the playwright’s voice by turning the written text into a performance text,” she said.

From text to performance, there is a creative exploration of theatrical language. Each language: song, dance, movement, costume harmoniously aided the interpretation. The audience had a fun-filled evening with active participation. Rancorous laughter greeted the entrance of some of the actors like the Usher played by Natasha Daudu due to her unique back view, costumed in a black tight fitting trouser and black jacket laced with a camisole on a pair of high-heeled shoes. This gave her naturally endowed back view to the audience each time she goes to pick the offering basket.

The main character, Bishop Bassey played by Anthony Lawrence also gave the audience the transformation they never expected. From being an unemployed graduate wearing a pair of shorts and a faded tee-shirt in his first appearance, he transformed to a man of God in an immaculate white suit and white shoes preaching on a pulpit with so much energy as he gyrates from one part of the stage to another in the Church scene.

The costuming of Sister Kehinde which is a blue lace ‘buba’ and ‘iro’ with a blue ‘gele’ to complement played by Kemi Babafemi was another unique type-casting with the delivery of lines in the Yoruba accent.

The costume of the orchestra and choir was another beauty to behold. The orchestra dressed in white shirts and black trouser with a bow tie made out of the costume of the choir.

The songs used throughout the performance were creations of the students though with familiar tunes. The creativity exhibited by these students gave one a promising future for the arts as these budding artists in the near future will be stars in their own right if they keep up with the spirit of what was showcased at the performance.

The Ochestra also performed the same role as the chorus in Greek plays as passive observers, commenting and anticipating the action of the principal characters without intervention.

The lighting effect was quite unique. However, I was thrilled with the effect of using light to divide the stage, where we have the Managing Director along with his Secretary in the same scene, but a clear demarcation showing two offices with the use of some lighting effect.    One would have expected a partitioning to show the two offices but the demarcation was clearly carried out by the lecturers in the area of Lighting and Design, Dr. Adakole Oklobia and Mr. Segun Abodunrin.

This performance of Bishop Bassey at the Open Air Theatre was a remount and not a premiere according to the playwright. In a session with the playwright, he aired his views when he was asked of his impression about the performance.

Gbilekaa said: “Well, if you want me to answer that question, I will say half and half.  In the first instance, you write a play and a director picks it up, it either suits you or may not suit you because as a director, he or she gives you the stage version of your work.

“So, the director is the stage author of your work. For this play, she adds, she edits and all those kind of things. That is, you own the text script while the director gives you the performance script.

“Let me say I was to a certain degree impressed since members of cast were amateurs. It is a good attempt by the class anyway. They were able to bring out the play the way I thought about it.

“To some extent, the acting, yes, it was alright, I agree with the actions of Bishop Bassey and later on Barbara, but I was not so comfortable with the reactions of Brother Cosmos and Dede, because I expected them to be a little bit more aggressive than they were.

“Then again, the director added some scenes to give it a local colouration in terms of employment. Well that was her interpretation. She did away with some sections of my script. But, I would rather prefer her to have kept firmly or religiously to my text.”

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