Theatre:Theatrical Offerings That Enriched Agbeyegbe’s Colloquium
Wherever man is found, there’s bound to be conflict, as he tries to negotiate his way around his environment; this, inevitably, rubs off on others to generate conflicts of sorts.
But who can imagine a conflict situation between man and rats over the ownership of land?! This is precisely the crisis point in Fred Agbeyegbe’s play Conflict Resolution, directed by Muyiwa Osinaike. It’s a play that pitches man and rats in a battle over land encroachment and ownership, land entitlement and rights and the need for co-existence.
But the folklorist is ever found of taking recourse to allegorical analogy to drive home the salient point that even the small beings or fellow next door has as much right as the mighty and powerful and that having all the powers is no license to trample on others.
The Amaus (Paul Adam and Nwoko Omolola) have just acquired a piece of land where rats also built their warren and have lived in there for as long as possible.
The human interlopers then demolish the rats’ abode to make way for their own coveted home. But feeling bitter and displaced from a home they had known all their lives, the rats, led by mother-rat (Agnes Adeponle), also move into the Amaus’ home to share occupancy.
They feel a sense of entitlement to the Amaus property as well since the humans are responsible for the loss of the forest home before the Amaus came to disrupt them in their natural home.
Typical of rats, they begin to steal or take whatever they could from the Amaus, who also device various means to kill and trap the rats from pestering them.
A trap kills the rats’ uncle and heightens the tension between the rats and humans. The Amaus also get a cat to deal with the rats, but the rats forge an alliance with the scorpion to bell the cat and so warn them of the cat’s approach.
The situation comes to a head with the rats, summoning a higher power, an adjudicator, to decide for all time whose land it is the Amaus have built their home and why it is they had to dispossess, displace and kill the rats, the original occupiers of the land, at will.
A court case ensues, with the Amaus caught by surprise of standing trial in a case brought on by rats. At first Amau tries to bluff his way out, but the rats insist and level weighty allegations against him and he finds himself boxed in a corner.
In fact, the rats accuse him of human rights abuse and genocide crimes to which he must answer to. Stunned, Amau discovers he is in forbidden territory and has to behave.
Eventually, an amicable settlement is reached; Amau is ordered to deal humanely with his neighbours, the rats, for peace to reign. Grudgingly, Amau submits and accepts the verdict and, together with the rats, the Amaus sing a solidarity song to mark the unique accord just forged.
In Conflict Resolution, Agbeyegbe shows himself as a master of stagecraft. As Prof. Gordini G. Darah also acknowledges, “Agbeyegbe is a genius in the deft use of parables and allegory… He is an inventor and engineer of theatre and stagecraft”.
The playwright’s training as a lawyer is also brought to bear in adjudicating a crisis situation. His sense of justice and defence of human rights is palpable in this play.
Just because the humans have the means does not mean they can trample on the hapless rats. But it goes beyond the plight of rats; it calls to question all forms of repression and oppression even in inter-human conflict situations.
Agbeyegbe might have been thinking about conditions in his native Niger Delta, with oil companies, backed by the mighty federal government, flagrantly undermining the rights of the owners of the land and the continued exploitation of oil and gas resources without considering the plight and rights of the people to meaningful livelihood, a condition that has engendered endless tensions.
Conflict Resolution is also a hilarious play. Merely pitching rats and man in conflict makes for hilarious moments, and made funnier with the young rats’ inquisitiveness on how they view humans and their different actions.
Their ingenuous mother gives them human names. Children will be thrilled to be treated to the theatric delicacy of Agbeyegbe’s Conflict Resolution.
ALSO, the command performance and world premiere of My Grandfather’s Ghost was staged on the evening of the colloquium in honour of the quintessential man of theatre Mr. Fred Agbeyegbe at Cinema I of National Theatre, Lagos. Also directed by Muyiwa Osinaike, My Grandfather’s Ghost is another of Agbeyegbe’s iconoclastic plays that enables him question certain fundamental issues about life and human existence.
Here, Agbeyegbe is concerned with destiny and what man can or cannot do to alter it if his destiny poses a challenge to him and everything he stands for.
What is the place of prayer or intercession in man’s destiny? In it the playwright summons all the great cosmic forces – God or Mighty One, Jesus, Mohammed, Holy Ghost – to a court to account for a king who possesses great wealth but cannot have a child of his own because he is destined not to have one.
But the king of Iwere (Paul Adam) petitions the servants of Lucifer, who obliges him a son, who then begets four sons from which one of them, King Eyinsan (Okorie Michael), is king and who has to bear the cross made for his grandfather.
The king is dead and a successor has to be named from his four princes born on the same day and at the same hour. The kingmakers and courtiers favour different princes and bicker among themselves and a duel-to-the-death has to be held to determine who is to be king among the four.
The Oxford-trained prince, who returns with an English wife, eventually wins, as one of the princes Oloka (Akutsam George) abstains from the contest in deference to whoever emerges unscathed from the duel.
But King Eyinsan is childless after 19 years on the throne and the kingdom is restless and agitates for an heir, even as King Eyinsan’s health begins to fail.
Embittered by his inability to have a child and being chastised by his subjects on the vexed subject, King Eyinsan dreams about his grandfather and his relentless quest for a child to inherit his wealth and throne.
It’s a quest that yields fruits, but which has consequences. When King Eyinsan wakes up from the dream, it becomes apparent to him why he cannot have a child, as it has been decided well in advance even for his grandfather, who broke rank from his destined path, the consequences of which his grand child must now pay.
At this time Prince Oloka, egged on by Chief Ologban (Burvey Obi Abiejue), starts to stake a claim to the throne since his brother and king can’t father an heir to inherit the throne. King Eyinsan then challenges him to a duel-to-the-death; they fight and inflict mortal wounds on each other.
But before he breathes his last, the king bequeaths the throne to Chief Ologban. Darah also captures the psychology inherent in the play when he states, “Agbeyegbe uses his drama to unravel complex and perplexing myths, ideologies and doctrines with which human beings enslave and entangle themselves… My Grandfather’s Ghost offers other exciting instances of anti-hegemonic consciousness.
Supernatural figures and metaphysical entities feature in African plays that explore the realms of myth and esoteric ideas… We encounter grand melodramatic scenes where all the iconic figures of the Christian and Islamic religions entertain us with hilarious banter about ideological disputations…
What is of dramatic import in the play is the boldness with which the playwright presents these divine agencies in squabbles that thoroughly erode their aura of divinity and omniscience. Only a humanist and free thinker of Agbeyegbe’s pedigree can entertain in this iconoclastic manner”.
The two plays offer music and dances that greatly enliven the entire showcase, as total theatre. The coronation scene in My Grandfather’s Ghost is sublime performance and traditional costuming and dance.
It will be sad thing for theatre if the producers and director fail to take the play outside in a fee-paying showcase in a reenactment of the 1980s Ajo Productions style. This is more so in the wave of Pentecostal exhibitionism blowing across Christian and Islamic faiths.