Inside Oguntokun’s Theatre Republic


Yinka Olatunbosun

Arecent press preview of Wole Oguntokun’s The Waiting Room laid the basis for the discussion of new theatre spaces in Lagos. Before now, Wole Oguntokun, a trained lawyer and theatre advocate, had enjoyed the use of several cultural spaces that doubled as performance spaces for some of his works. Precisely, his productions had been staged consistently as part of the Theatre@Terra series whereby theatre companies are granted free usage of the Terra Kulture Hall for various stage performances all-year round.

But as the need for cultural presence arises in different parts of the city, Theatre Republic, a new cultural hub, domiciled in Lekki Phase I has been conceived and executed by Wole Oguntokun to fill that need for theatre performances as well as book readings, performance poetry and more. The building behind the performance space serves as the administrative block for the theatre company. Asides being the platform for indigenous theatre troupes to express their creativity through rehearsals and performances, Theatre Republic is also a home to visiting artists who have come into Lagos for performances or cultural exchange programmes.

Outside the building, a mini-size café for small chops and other kinds of refreshments has been constructed to cater for the culinary needs of visitors and theatre-goers. Although the Asun Spot looked vacant as at the time of this reporter’s visit, the tell-tale charcoal furnace was a physical proof that nightlife at Theatre Republic is another desirable element of the cultural space. Of course, the building is still very much under construction but that didn’t stop Oguntokun from showing a handful of journalists at the press preview of The Waiting Room around the building.

As for the theatre, its wooden doors had been flung open to the public to enjoy plays on the staple of Renegade Theatre as well as other theatre production companies. Interestingly, plays are performed at the venue, at least twice a month. The freshly-cut wooden chairs can accommodate hundreds; but in terms of comfort, the rating is edging below the average. Blame it on the recession-Theatre Republic was meant to be a very conducive theatre hall but that hasn’t changed.

Temporarily, the building will serve its primary purpose. And theatre audiences who can sit atop the backless chairs inside Bogobiri in Ikoyi will not mind the backrest at Theatre Republic. Besides, Lekki residents are not taken care of with this new theatre space that has come to town.
Written in 2013, The Waiting Room which adopts a play-with-a-play technique had been staged in London and was staged for the first time in Lekki when this reporter visited.

It seemed to have a linear plot at its take-off but made detours into sub-plots. Four disparate characters namely, Flexy, Kera, Keshi and Aduke have each received a letter summoning them to a meeting that its actual purpose wasn’t disclosed in the invite. The mysterious invitation and its source constituted the conflict of the drama. Aduke is a feisty woman who is anxious to catch her flight; Keshi is a banker, Flexy is a Lagos streetwise gunman while Kera is young seductress.

The initials at the bottom of the individual letters make up the word “Destiny” and the four characters are left to solve the riddle. Through their individual role-playing, the possession of the gun places power in the hands of individual character locked in a room, in quick succession.

Discerning the true narrative of all the four characters’ stories forms the conflict resolution. The playwright didn’t attempt to solve the riddle for the audience but provokes rational thinking.
Essentially, the play can be read as an existentialist play for sound reasons. One, it has the element of absurdism, that is, the idea that there is no meaning in the world except for the meaning we give it. Two, the play conveys dread and angst as well as despair from each character ,who is not in possession of the gun to the audience.

The playwright and director, Oguntokun is a Fellow of the International Society for the Performing Arts (ISPA). He emerged as a player on the Nigerian Theatre landscape between September and December 1998 with his productions of his satirical stage drama Who’s Afraid of Wole Soyinka?, which is a lampoon of the Nigerian military in governance.