Realism in The Wives’ Revolt’s Scenic Design

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A scene from the production

Yinka Olatunbosun

Asmall community in the Niger-Delta was recreated on stage recently when the African Radio Drama Association (ARDA) staged J. P. Clark’s classic play, The Wives’ Revolt at the Agip Recital Hall, MUSON Centre, Onikan. The first attraction for theatre audience was the set design and its nearness to the fictitious locale. The stage floor was sand-filled, yellow jerry cans were arranged against the wall which was created using a wall paper with clay structure, quite typical of a village setting. Rusty iron-roofing sheets were lit underneath by the naked single bulbs while a big blue water drum was placed downstage. A pile of bricks facing each other formed the cooking stand for the life-size aluminium pot, stoked by charcoal. These technical details, for which Ayobami Aribisala has credit as the technical director, created the ambience for the story of women revolution embedded in the plot.

An oil-company offered a pay out to a host community. According to the directives from the community leader, the money was to be shared into three parts; for the elders, men and women. Since the elders are all men, it means they have the two-thirds of the money. As though that was not enough, Okoro made the proclamation banning the rearing of goats. Women are the goat keepers in the community thus they considered the law as very obnoxious and discriminatory.

The women mobilised against their husbands to ask for these decrees to be reversed to show gender balance. They deserted their homes, leaving their husbands with the children and home to manage.

Dialogue played a very crucial role in the Wives’ Revolt. While this may have been matched by spontaneous stage business, the verbal exchange between Okoro and his wife, Koko (Zara Udofia-Ejoh) unearthed the core issues that constituted the conflict of the drama namely the quest for gender balance. From the character of Koko, it is clear that the women are not seeking to be co-pilots in their homes as they still kneel down to serve food to their husbands. But, the women did not want to be treated as if there are less than humans, devoid of feelings. Their protest almost hit the rocks when they returned with afflictions from a rival community. In the end, the decree was reversed and women were free to keep goats.

The use of follow-spot for the character of Okoro communicated the singularity of opinion, the one-sided nature of the laws of the land. An intriguing part of the play was the baby backing scene. The baby’s crying vocals were well-managed such that it never distracted the audience from enjoying the conversations on stage.

Microphones were not used in the production directed by Toritseju Akiya Ejoh as this returned the play to the traditional theatre practice where the stage voice is a primary factor for casting. Okoro (Toyin Oshinaike) is without a doubt one of the best in acting. But his voice, which is naturally hoarse textured, seemed to be strained in spite of his effort at projecting his lines. Idama (Albert Akaeze) has a reverberating stage voice and it is quite ironical than he plays a supporting role, with speech relatively slower, almost placatory.

Folk songs added some ethnic tone to the performance as they were carefully arranged by the music director, Deborah Ohiri, a finalist on the music reality show, Project Fame Season 8.

The show ended with remarks from the Executive Director, ARDA, Alison Data Photo who said the play marked the end of the International Women’s History Month. “ARDA’s goal is to promote sustainable development with culturally competent, audience-centric communication methodologies that address root causes of the most pressing issues and proffer workable solutions. We have chosen to stage ‘The Wives’ Revolt’ because its themes of gender equality and women’s participation in decision-making are still important. The play is a thoughtful vision of a better and more equal society for all by none other than the third leg of the troops of the founding fathers of Nigerian literature.”