Hiss to Ease


Yinka Olatunbosun

It’s not anyone’s expectation that a play which began almost an hour after its scheduled time would last for just thirty minutes. Hiss! Perhaps it was part of the script to make us hiss, literarily. J.P Clark, the playwright, had always written short plays, or better still, dramatic sketches with strong socio-economic themes. His recent play, “The Hiss’’, produced by the founder, Live Theatre on Sunday, Sola Adenugba was performed last weekend at the Lagos Country Club, G.R.A., Ikeja and served as another evidence to his mastery of quickly-developed plot structure, wordy dialogue and lately, non-conventional theatrical style.

Adenugba had enjoyed minimalist plays for convenience and economic reasons. Good enough, he found another experimental comedy he could produce and the result of his findings birthed the play. In Adenugba’s production, the play relied largely on multi-media support for back-drops that established Lagos Island as the locale of the drama. The plot involved just two characters, Alero, a young undergraduate of the University of Lagos and a cantankerous commercial motorcyclist. Alero’s destination was Ikoyi and she chanced upon a certain motorcyclist who was willing to embark on the long eventful ride.

At first, the audience entered the hall and experienced some shock at the sight of a motorcycle right there on centre-stage. “Is the motorcycle part of the show?’’, asked a man, who sat with his family in the mid-second row. Of course, it was and the synopsis on twitter bore the clue. The drama took place on the bike, almost all of it. The characters are essentially societal archetypes; the sort that ply the Nigerian roads daily.

Alero’s character is also dynamic in that she is capable of not just representing the impoverished Lagosians whose means of daily transportation is the commercial motorcycle while at the same time she can pass for a middle-class woman, stranded, helpless, hops on a bike in a frantic effort to get to her destination. Through the conversation that ensued between her and the rider, she felt really insecure. From potholes to craters, she battled for her personal safety. The commercial rider informed her of how that motorcycle accommodates an entire family made up of children, born and unborn. Irrespective of Alero’s economic status, the motorcycle in J.P Clark’s play is a melting ground for the “haves and the have-nots’’. Inside that short play, the audience can see Marxist’s class struggle while the motorcycle remains an economic commodity.

The play matches contemporary needs in form and content. In form, most theatre production companies in Nigeria cannot afford heavy technical details. Hence, they need less to express more. For the lack of theatre spaces in Nigeria, producers like Adenugba have converted many available spaces to performance venues.

In content, the issues raised by the playwright are profound and necessary. The population explosion in Lagos has put a strain on the available infrastructure and even on commonsense. People no longer care about safety; money seems more important to survival. That’s why the motorcyclist sped without caution, unrestrained by law enforcement agents, and rode in possession of a firearm which was later discovered to be a mere toy. In retrospect, the motorcyclist is a dynamic character.

He could be an ordinary man, perhaps unemployed for years, who is trying to earn a living or a robber in disguise. But the play ended when the motorcyclist grabbed Alero’s bag, surfed through the content and decidedly returned it to her house. It’s a comedy so it ended on a happy note. In reality, many commercial motorcyclists are not so good-natured. Part of the reasons for the state ban on them is the incident of armed robbery get-away made convenient by commercial motorcyclists.
The Hiss was staged last May Day weekend for Lagosians to unwind while reflecting on the lingering socio-economic issues