Vanessa Obioha writes that in coming to console a grieving friend, friends and relatives find an avenue to tell their tales of grief
Life is a journey, sang the singers of the musical ‘Ada the Country’.
It took Titilope Sonuga three weeks to pen the riveting musical. The outcome was a story punctuated with grief and laughter. The story centers on Ada — the titular character played by actress Kate Henshaw — a woman trapped in a loveless marriage until a fire incident that claimed her precious child sent her into a dark world of grief. The unbearable pain forced her to leave the city and her marriage, and seek the comfort of her mother in a remote village.
How Ada is able to conquer the swirling gloom in her heart is the thrust of the musical produced and directed by Kemi Lala Akindoju.
‘Ada the Country’ opened to a large audience on January 2, and a larger audience attended its closing on January 5. The reason for the increasing number of audience is not far-fetched. The production by Doyenne Circle is for every woman irrespective of status quo or age. It was a balance that both the producer and playwright strived to achieve, as noted by Sonuga in a brief chat. The multi-layered themes of the musical addressed the myriad of issues faced by the everyday woman in a seemingly man’s world. From sexual abuse to marital pressure to siblings rivalry, the peerless cast of the musical delivered each message with bravura.
The audience were gradually introduced to these themes in the two-hour long performance. The production opened with shouts of panic, followed by dancers storming the artistic stage in a state of chaos. They run back and forth, carrying empty pots filled with imaginary water to quench the raging fire in the form of fireworks.
Subsequent scenes showed an inconsolable Henshaw, mourning the death of her beloved child. Her husband Femi played by Ayoola tried to console her but all he got was a shove and a blunt refusal from Ada to return to their matrimonial home. He watched in pain as she followed the group of dancers while he was dragged out of the stage.
Akindoju did a brilliant job in depicting the transition process whereby Ada leaves her former life of fear and doubts and embark on a journey of recovery. The procession is characterised by melancholic songs and wise words from veteran actresses Joke Silva and Patience Ozokwor. The process was concluded by a courageous chant performed in Igbo language, urging Ada to confront her fears boldly.
But in travelling to the village, Ada didn’t get the peace of mind she craved for. Her overbearing mother was deeply concerned about her state of mind. Her worries also cast Ada in a deep state of reflection, plumbing the unwanted responsibilities heaped on the first female child in a traditional Igbo home. Ada as the daughter is fondly called lives a life filled with many expectations from others. She is pampered but also deprived. She is expected to lead by example: good grades, good job, good marriage and good children. She listens and does others bidding, hardly pondering on her own needs and dreams. When will it end?
Worried about their friend’s abrupt departure from the city, Ada’s friends, Nkem, Alero, Funmi and Lola played by Chioma ‘Chigul’ Omeruah, Bimbo Akintola, Ade Laoye and Oludara Egerton-Shygnle, respectively travelled to the countryside to console their friend. But in comforting their friend, they found an avenue to tell their own survival stories.
First was Nkem whose monologue centred on self-acceptance, then Alero who seemingly had a happy marriage but had to bring out her claws in the corporate world to gain fair treatment. Against her will, Funmi slept with a lecturer in order to pass her grades only to find out that the lecturer was the father to a friend. The shocking discovery made her realise that these sex-for-marks lecturers are not monsters in daylight. They are somebody’s father, husband, uncle, son, cousin, employee, preacher, whose evil intentions hide behind a sanctimonious veneer.
For Lola, finding true love means travelling all parts of the world, looking for the ‘real man’ whose yes is a yes and no is no. A painful ordeal with a promising bachelor who ended up cheating on her convinced her that a faithful partner is harder to find than a needle in a haystack.
The relatives are not left out in the intrigues. There is Ifeoma (Oluchi Odii), who because of the constant pressure from her lecturers and randy traders has learnt to defend herself with pepper sprays. For Kemi (Akindoju) who is the sister-in-law to Ada, she couldn’t fathom her mother’s kindness to another daughter having felt neglected all her life.
Like their daughters, the mothers too have reasons for their own actions. While Ozokwor didn’t want to be dependent as her own mother, Silva who played the mother of Femi and Kemi deprived herself of pleasures just to ensure that her children got the best of life. The interaction between her and Kemi mirrored siblings rivalry often triggered by parents favouring the male child than the female child.
Another balance which the playwright achieved was to show the weakness of the man. Femi, visibly hurt by his wife’s absence, failed to confront the elephant in the room, rather he hid behind his ego and with the backing of his belligerent sister, felt no need to offer the olive branch to his wife. But instead of painting him the villain, Sonuga cast Femi in a vulnerable state.
Everything in ‘Ada the Country’ contributes to the overall impression of women’s emancipation: defiance, anguish and pleasure (yes pleasure in becoming who they really are). It is in the way the women tell their stories, the joys they expressed in their little triumphs. It is also in the score of the musical directed by Debbie Ohiri. The songs at times are plaintive and at other times, pulsating. Though the vocal strength of the lead actors were not impressive, their actions were. Sonuga wrote memorable lines for each of the characters. Lines such as ‘I’m not angry but undone’, ‘Grief is a river’, ‘You honour your pain with the truth’, ‘This woman is imperfect, yet strong as an old country’ resonated with the audience that filled the Agip Recital Hall of MUSON Centre in Onikan, Lagos.
Henshaw finally found the peace she longed for when she discovered that the guilt she carried inside was just another figment of her imagination. She confided in her mother-in-law that on several occasions of sleepwalking, she did abnormal things such as lighting up the stove and feared that her actions might have razed the house, but the latter allayed her fears by assuring her that she was not responsible for the accident. With that confession came her healing.
Nevertheless, at the heart of ‘Ada the Country’ is a tale of love. The love that binds each character to one another and gives them the fortitude to survive everyday’s challenge.