A scene from the stage play
By Vanessa Obioha
How can one capture the eccentricity of one of the celebrated literary icons in the country on stage? That was my exact thought as I settled at the Agip Recital Hall of the Onikan-based MUSON Centre, Lagos, where Renegade Theatre’s exuberant production Eni Ogun was staged recently. Though the hall was half-empty on the Saturday show, I was intrigued by the fact that the hall didn’t feel that vacant as the cast ignited the stage with their whip-smart and marvellous performance. Few minutes behind schedule, I was about to get the answers to my thought.
Wole Oguntokun once again proved that he is equal to the task. In his seventh series of the Season of Wole Soyinka plays, in the month of July which is the birth month of the Nobel Prize winner, the creative director and owner of Renegade Theatre dared to capture the life and times of the literary icon on stage in the stage play titled Eni Ogun.
The interesting part of this stage play is the way he captured the significant parts of the writer’s life such as his childhood, political ambition and of course, his literary flair. Though the turnout was relatively poor, the cast’s sterling performance engaged the audience so warmly in celebration of the art of storytelling.
Thumbs up to the director once again for his choice of cast, costume and props such as the use of recorded voices, traditional songs and other embellishment that brought the celebrated character to life! Notwithstanding the flamboyant use of vocabulary which is attributed to the Nobel Laureate, Oguntokun was able to set a light mood with his satirical characters such as the cunning soldier Odejimi (Kola Fagite), who ranted on the potency of his magic to destroy Hitler, his classmate Iku (Precious Anyanwu), the prefect of his secondary school who bullied and confused him with his ambiguous words, Ezeoba (Austin Onuoha), and the tyrant who almost sent him to jail.
The drama, which was based on the three books of the Nobel Laureate Ake: The Years of Childhood, Ibadan: the Penkelemes Years and You Must Set Forth at Dawn chronicles the vast history of Nigeria that relates some historical events in the country but are also the most hilarious books ever written by the celebrated writer. Travelling through series of narrations, one was able to catch a glimpse of the life and style of the bookish professor.
Divided into two parts, the first which focused on his childhood days was a bit lengthy and dragged at a point but the director compensated with the fast-paced events of the writer’s adult life with such remarkable ingenuity. Characterised by his relationship with his strict father who was also the Head Principal Samuel Ayodele Soyinka popularly known as S.A. and his “Wild Christian” of a mother, Grace Eniola played by Jumoke Bello, the first part of the play revealed a subtle part of the writer especially with the death of his beloved sister Folashade. The spiking emotions the scene elicited were tear-inducing.
An interesting part of the play was the initiation of Soyinka in his teens played by Joshua Alabi to the revered deity Ogun by his grandfather Paa Adatan (Amos Olutokun) in preparation for secondary school. This was followed by the humorous scenes of his grandiloquent prefect Ezeoba and his classmate the infamous Iku and his friends who were caught by the principal stealing a chicken. The comical presentation of the case by Iku to the principal further elicited peals of laughter from the audience.
Perhaps the strongest character of the play was Jumoke Bello, who actively portrayed her role as a political activist. Her singular and epic towards women empowerment and influential part of the Ransome-Kuti family was clearly depicted. One of her comical roles was the way she stopped one of her husband’s guests from eating all her husband’s meals by serving him ginger ale and orange scotch daily.
Olarotimi Fakunle who was the main narrator of the night and also played the adult Soyinka was another key character in the play. Through his narration he raised thought-provoking questions on the lackadaisical and selfish leadership that has plagued the country for years. Despite his strict disposition, he amused the audience with his naivety at the Paris airport on his way to London.
Through series of chants, the actors dramatised the roles of the past leaders of the country, reliving their deeds and actions during their tenure as Head of States in the defunct military regimes and the democratic era. The civil war was not excluded from this dramatic scene.
No doubt, the Nobel Prize winner would have been proud of the cast if he were to watch the play.
-Obioha writes from Lagos