The interplay of love and infidelity in Unstable
Dreams are double-edged; they could come as a warning of the evil to befall one or to foretell the manifold blessings to come. The Christian holy book is replete with such dreams. So, when the play, Unstable, begins on such dream note, some audience saw it as a fortification of the African belief, where the spiritual sphere of life controls or influences the physical.
The play opens with a singing group, led by the narrator, Iquo Abasi Eke, who, in poetic prologue, sheds light on what is to come. We see the widowed King Ido of Ozolua Kingdom (Bassey Okon) in his palace, thinking about his son, who is in the battlefield, fighting to extend the suzerainty of Ozolua. While in this pensive state, some villagers drag in an outcast and adulterous woman, Esewi (Tina Mba), to him. They accuse her of prostitution and want the King to send her back to where she comes from or banish her from Ozolua. But the King would do no such thing; he spares her life and makes her live in the palace among his numerous maids. But as the days pass by, King Ido begins to admire Esewi’s radiant beauty: he falls in love with the woman whose past is as dirty as a hog.
Esewi, aware of who she is, warns Ido to direct his love to another woman, saying her past is too mucky for a king to bear, but resolute Ido goes on, even against the will of the villagers, and carries on the affairs.
Just like the words of Abhijit Naskar, the world’s celebrated Neuroscientist, ‘the brain becomes illogical in the throes of new romance.’ King Ido loses his senses; he would not accept any advice on his love entangle with Esewi or allow anybody speak ill of her. He goes ahead and marries her. The whore, in a twinkle, becomes the queen consort of Ozolua land.
Anyone would have expected Esewi to turn a new leaf, but the demon in her would not let her be. She goes wild and sleeps with different men, including those too low in status to stand before the king. Her promiscuity soon brings King Ido in direct conflict with a powerful rival, King Ediae of Uzebu (Ropo Ewenla). Esewi’s insatiable lust leads her to the embittered king, who exacts an expensive revenge – Ido’s son. King Ido’s son, Igudia (Oyin Gbade), is indentured in exchange for Esewi.
However, Igudia regains his freedom and returns to Ozolua, while Esewi, unperturbed, goes on with her amorous affair with Uzebu. But since Ido is madly in love – in fact, it is a case of love me, love my dog – he goes in pursuit of her, thus making both communities to go to war.
Ozolua’s soldiers overrun Ediae, but King Ido is unlucky, as he is killed trying to save his queen from Uzebu’s bullet. As he falls to mother earth, he is startled to finds out that he has been dreaming. He wakes to hear the shouts of a mob calling for the head of a wench, who turns out to be the Esewi of his dream.
Written by Dickson Ekhaguere, the play, performed recently at MUSON Centre, Lagos, is full didactic lessons on love and perseverance. Set in a fictional vassal community in the ancient Bini Kingdom, the play was directed by Mr. Ben Tomoloju, who deploys his ingenuity to used diverse Nigerian dances, costumes and poetry to show the cosmopolitan nature of the play. It was another superlative production for Tomoloju.
Nonetheless, a second look at the play leaves one in doubt its authenticity as an African dramatic piece it is, especially as the queen consort turns herself to an object of ridicule. It raises questions such as: How can anyone sleep with the King’s wife and go scot-free and without appeasing the gods of the land? How can a king leave without a wife? In Africa, kings are seen as the god’s representatives on earth and as such the royal throne is held sacred. Therefore, royalty has a generous dose of whatever it wants, including women.
Seen from this traditional perspective gives the play the impression of a phony tale, a mere fable to entertain theatre audience. But this is made up in the political standpoint of the play. Here, King Ido stands as a personification of African heads of State, who undermine public opinions to carry out their selfish ambitions, which most times lead to mis-governance and expose the citizens to diverse hardships. Ido sacrifices his own son, heir apparent, to free his slut of a wife. His love for this woman makes him go to war.
Esewi also stands for the citizens, especially the political gladiators, whose actions and inactions are slowing down the progress of their countries. She represents opinion-moulders – traditional or otherwise – and political leaders, who remain mired in their murky filth rather than cleanse themselves and provide shinning examples to those they lead. They belong to a particular party in the morning and in the evening they change to another party. In fact, they change party just like Esewi changes the men she sleeps with.
However, the situation comes to a conflicting end, when Esewi laments the passing away of Ido and afterwards kills herself. She shows a moment of remorse; one expects her to continue being a nymphomaniac, but she chooses to end her life. The play creatively serves as a lesson in leadership.
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