In a 45-minute drama written by Soji Cole, a pocket of audience inside Freedom Park, Lagos at the just concluded Lagos Theatre Festival watched keenly as the dialogue flowed between the two characters on stage. The mood of the play is predominantly confrontational as both actors, Charles Etubiebi and Simi Hassan engaged in a vocal battle to save his one’s neck from the blame game. The play titled, Maybe Tomorrow, opened with the monk meditating before he was joined by the police officer. It’s a 21st century morality play that questions the role each one of them had played in history. The monk in the play represents the ruled while the police officer symbolizes the ruler.
The two-hander technique in Maybe Tomorrow is similar to the type prominently used in South African plays where apartheid is a recurring thematic preoccupation of the playwrights. For instance, Percy Mtwa, Mbongeni Ngema and Barney Simon collectively wrote one of the best satires of the apartheid period, Woza Albert! where the two actors had to play several roles of the average black South Africans. However, emphasis is laid on dialogue in Maybe Tomorrow as there was no music interlude, dance or mime. At the end of the play, both actors switched their costumes, a visual role-playing technique to bring resolution to the conflict of the drama.
The director, Leke Gbolade spoke on the few adjustments made to the script to sustain the audience’s interest in a light-set, almost zero prop production.
“We started the rehearsal three weeks ago,” he disclosed. “As you can see, it has just two characters. Basically, it is about being able to create something out of the script. We used the script as a manual, chopped off what we didn’t see as necessary and eventually come up with our own interpretation of the play. It is not the entire play. The policeman represents authority or power. The monk represents the masses. The uniform of the monk is a symbol of servitude. So, the characters represent the rulers and the ruled.”
Like Athol Fugard’s 1993 drama, Playland which serves a tool for reconciliation and reorientation in post-apartheid South Africa, Cole’s Maybe Tomorrow fosters similar spirit as the audience can see better through the theatre lens that sometimes one needs to trade shoes to understand the circumstances that affect human behaviour at a particular place or time. The director seemed to concur with this understanding as he added that the drama is not focused on blaming either the ruler or the ruled.
“We are not trying to judge anybody,” he said. “Today, you might be the president. Tomorrow, you may not be. We need to understand ourselves and ask for forgiveness. We need to go back to the past and reconcile with all that we have done in the past. Without doing that, we are in trouble.”
The producer of the play, Sola Adenugba who is the brain behind “Live Theatre on Sunday”, a monthly series of stage productions in Lagos, revealed the reason why his productions will be taking a different outlook this year.
“The next production is titled The Hiss. It is written by J.P. Clark. It is the story of Nigeria told through the common people. It is going to be staged during the Easter holidays that is Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday. It will be done in multiple venues. We are looking at Freedom Park, Terra Kulture, Chevron Recreational Centre, the Lagos Country Club and Alliance Française, Ikeja.”
When asked why he had stopped the free monthly shows at Ikeja, he cited the economic factor as one of the reasons.
“Since we started Live Theatre on Sundays, we have been doing our plays for free every month. This year, we realise that growth is important and that we have to change. 2-cast plays are easy to produce in terms of affordability and cast. But it stretches the actor. The onus is on the two of them to make the play as interesting as possible through their resources such as their voice and body. It is also about the economy of the nation. We are in the era of optimising resources. We want more people to see our play. Hence we are doing plays that are easy to take around. In the past, we have always been in Ikeja. We want to cover Lagos. We don’t want to be known with only one venue. We want to reach Lagos Island, Epe, Ikeja. We intend to tour with the play. Our next venue will likely be Calabar.”