First, we were scammed, then we witnessed a breathtaking performance and a wedding proposal. These were the opening scenes of ‘Off-Key’, the debut stage production of Nollywood filmmaker Ike Nnaebue. The play was part of the Lagos Theatre Festival which ended last weekend.
Off-Key tells the story of Joy, a successful opera singer who believed she was a failure. The play focuses on her struggle to become perfect and overcome depression. On the surface, Joy played by the eclectic opera singer Ranti had a perfect life. Her shows were magnetic and after each performance, she was serenaded by her fiancé who constantly reminded her of the incredible talents she possesses.
But his affection is not as overwhelming as the taunting voice in Joy’s head. It preyed on her after each show and shredded her self-esteem to pieces, often driving her to a suicidal state.
Ranti dazzles in the peerless manner she segues from an euphoric state to a depressing mood. It is in the way she cowers at the command of the intimidating voice, in her feeble attempt to challenge his reasons.
Her fragility contradicts the imagery of strength and success that is stamped on the minds of her audience.
Off-Key puts the spotlight on mental health challenges in our society. Inspired by true events, Nnaebue who also wrote and directed the play disclosed that he wanted to tell an opera story that will touch on the subject. The play is not the first time the filmmaker will focus on mental health challenges. His 2019 film ‘Loving Daniella’ had mental health as its theme.
However, in trying to enlighten the public on mental health issues, the script nearly veered off key. The lines of the psychologist that treated Joy were not poetic and bordered on ennui. Although the actress Mercy Albert delivered the lines with vivacity, it didn’t evoke a bubbling reaction.
Despite the central theme, Off-Key is multilayered with messages of love. It is a portrayal of an enduring love beautifully interpreted by Neota Obasi. As Joy’s fiance, he showed understanding and perseverance towards Joy’s frustrating depression. It was through one of his arguments with her that Joy’s backstory was revealed. Joy and her siblings were raised by a poor single mother after their father abandoned them at a young age. The poverty-stricken life they were subjected to was the driving force behind the critical voice. It constantly reminded Joy that if she rested on her oars for a millisecond, she would end up like her mother.
Joy finally conquered the voice after accepting help from the psychologist that her fiancé introduced her to. But in conquering the voice of fear, she found the true meaning of success and love.