Take A Bow Ladies, Men Hear Word
IT is not every time you get to see a performance as Hear Word, which ended at the MUSON Centre, Onikan, Lagos, yesterday.
For a start, how many times have you seen a stellar cast as, Deborah Ohiri, Lala Akindoju, Zara Udofia, Rita Edward, Ufuoma McDermott, Joke Silva, Taiwo Ajai-Lycett, Kate Henshaw, Bimbo Akintola, Omonor, Elvina Ibru and Odenike on stage together?
Produced by iOpenEye, a company established in 2014 by Ifeoma Fafunwa, to showcase the best of Nigerian performance art, with a focus on empowering women and transforming society.
The outfit, through its performances, aims to challenge status quo, which limits the potential of the broader Nigerian society.
The company also envisions a Nigeria where citizens are informed, empowered and can make a difference, no matter where they sit on the socio-economic sector. Women should be equal and part of decision-making, leadership and nation building processes.
Hear Word might yet be the forerunner for the dream return of the glorious days of theatre in Nigeria, with expensive budget, big stars and big stories to tell and not forgetting very expensive and elaborately designed costume.
The scale and ambition of the project was further espoused at the media briefing to announce the show by the Head, Events and Sponsorship at Etisalat Nigeria, Modupe Thani, who said, “Etisalat is proud to support Hear Word, an initiative which celebrates the arts through the creative and artistic works of women within and beyond Nigeria. We recently supported the Woman Rising Initiative which also celebrates the creative works of women globally.
For Fafunwa, she’s not only humbled and inspired by the gift of Hear Word, but “the amazing actresses who came onboard without hesitation and who just keep gifting the incredible audience response and the inspiring support from sponsors.
The stories featured in Hear Word are based on everyday realities of Nigerian women. It is our hope that by lending our voices to theirs, we can amplify their reach and begin to transform realities. I am truly grateful to be part of this process. ”
She continued, “in order for women to handle the daily situation and still remain sane, women have also, without knowing it, become the main perpetrators of confining other women to recoil in their shell in the society. Because of the way most women are brought up, they have become the gatekeepers and soldiers that protect the male ego thereby allowing some bad manners that need to be corrected at a very tender age slip by just because the child is a boy.”
Hear Word is a collection of skits and episodes on the injustice against Nigerian women. It tells the story of womanhood, their plight, travails and conquests.
From the travails of daughters-in-law in the hands of their mothers-in-law, to the agony of the widow suspected to be the cause of her husband’s death, the victim of rape, who cannot tell no one, and the degradation of the woman asked by her husband to warm the bed of his friend in the name of hospitality, to the battered wife who suddenly grabs and twists her husband’s manhood to save herself, the widow, who was to be deprived of all her life’s earnings by her in-laws, but by a stroke of wisdom and the help of the law overcomes them, to the trafficked girl, who braves all consequences to report her mistress to the authorities and more, Hear Word combines social commentary and true-life stories of transformation delivered by some of Nigeria’s best known and most talented actresses.
The audience is offered an intimate view into the lives of Nigerian women from all corners of this diverse country crossing a variety of socio-economic levels. How they are, in fact, their own worst enemies.
Funny and poignant, Hear Word shocks the sensibility, tears the soul, and alternately, warms and saddens the heart. The sharp wits woven into this incredibly moving production keeps the audience enthralled.
The landscape of the eponymous drama is loosely based on ‘her’ story and frontier settlements of her activism. It gives Nigerian women a platform, where they can be heard, increasing their level of awareness on issues, subsequently, elevating the quality of dialogue.
Like the period when the gods descend in Greek drama through Deux ex machina, Hear Word provides a platform to liberate Nigeria women from sheer timidity. It urges them to ‘speak up the truth’; and stop pretending that nothing is happening. This is because the Nigerian woman is brought up not to say anything, even when she is raped or battered, lest you lose your value.
Though, the Nigerian audiences aren’t too disposed to scripts on female heroism preferring the male hero, the coming of Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues to the Nigerian version, V Monologues, and now Hear Word! Naija Woman Talk True, the Nigerian stage is reaching that period of anagnorisis, where serious issue is clothed in melodramatic genres, themes and concepts.
Hear Word also features the V Monologues taken by Ajai-Lycett and later, Ufuoma McDermott, eliciting whispers and murmurs at first, and sheer laughter.
With each scene, there is a resolute determination to liberate the woman. When McDermott comes on stage as a born again, Bible carrying Sister Esther, talking about the pleasures of sex, the audience is left to wonder what her message is all about.
Esther is brought up to see sex as not just sinful, but one of the tools of the devil to deceive children of God. She prays, casting and binding the devil after her first orgasm. But with explanation from her husband, she comes to realise that God creates it and that it is good and should be enjoyed.
“Now when my vagina sings, I sing too,” she says.
The beauty of the production is that, though, the episodes are not whole drama, it gives the audience a feeling similar to the signification of cinematic collages that depend less on words but expressive moving images of strong characters..
However, it is not the kind of drama that will get your evening ruined by the wrong choice of word, or overt mention of sex and sexuality of women. It is two hours of watchable theatrical exposition, without losing the depth, detail and sheer ambition.
That, in fact, sets it apart. There is effective use of theatre language: the light, movement, costumes, props and stage set.
While moving between grammar and pidgin, the characters use up the levels and stage in an exceedingly expressive manner.
In a neat piece of symmetry, the director can positively reveal what the woman story — Her Story — is: drama that is not dominated by wine-quaffing, chicken gorging or male bashing stereotypes.