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THE BITTER AFTERTASTE OF JOSHUA ALABI’S TALK N DO
Destination was NECA Hall, Alausa that Friday morning. It is a coincidence that this venue for one of the featured plays at the 2020 Lagos Theatre Festival is situated adjacent to the New Afrikan Shrine, the authentic hub of the Afrobeat music. Known for his politically-themed plays such as Jogbo and Joinbodi, the actor-director, Joshua Alabi brought fire to the improvised stage to deliver a fast-paced agit-prop play titled Talk N Do for an audience made up of non-governmental organisations and civil societies. Produced by Kininso Koncepts Production, the play is a project funded by the European Union and implemented by British Council.
Set in a fictitious community, the engaging drama opens with a market scene where a trader is listening to a radio programme which has a senator as guest.
The on-stage performance was a creative overlay over the voice-over characters positioned in the auditorium to depict the on-air personality and the cheeky politician. Albeit chaotic, the noise from the stage is typical of market scenes in Nigeria which are usually characterised by blarring music from speakers and temperamental sellers. From road side food vendors to fabric sellers, the set was representative of the everyday people who are subjects of repressive government.
Music was a powerful tool in the propaganda play, Talk N Do to drive the consciousness of the audience who share the same grievances and sentiments expressed by the characters. It came as no surprise that the director chose the Afrobeat genre in articulating the protest message in the drama which adopted the Alienation effect. Sometimes, the characters broke the “fourth wall” by addressing the audience directly in their chorused lines.
The politician on the radio show is a self-conceited individual whose responses to the anguish of the callers were clearly insensitive. That fuelled the anger of the already disgruntled people who mobilised their anger into Afrobeat songs of agitation.
“Crime na Crime/Criminals dey waka/Offenders dey jolly” was the hook from one of the songs that underscored the scourge of impunity. Another issue raised in the performance is the structure of the criminal justice system especially with the role played by the police in crime-fighting. From the chorused dialogue, the audience could discern that the people detest the prevalence of bribery at the point of reporting crime to the police.
Anyone who has been robbed lately will attest to the reality that many Nigeria police officers retraumatise victims of robbery when they demand for them to pay for the pen and paper to document their statement deposed to the police. Often, crime victims fail to report crime as they are unable to bribe the police after being robbed of their money. Still, many are exploited as they have no choice but to obtain the police report to retrieve their lines or stolen belongings, if ever recovered.
Talk N Do takes a swipe at the authorities for not properly engaging with the public before enforcing policies and laws that affect their daily routines. A case in point is the ban on commercial motorcycles. While the play did not condemn the effort of the government at sanitising the city’s transport system, the characters mocked the hypocrisy beneath the enforcement of some laws, alleging that some of the enforcement officers own some of the commercial motorcycles that still ply those routes where they had been banned. Quite disheartening is the parody of how the Nigeria police treat victims of gender-based violence. The characters reeled out the typical questions that police officers ask victims when they report at the station.
It was agonising to listen to some ill-intent questions that have the potential of making the victim feel culpable in a crime against herself.
With its themes of public accountability, rule of law, justice, governance, solidarity and civic responsibility, Talk N Do preaches by its title that government needs to match its words by action by addressing all the issues raised in the play. Talk N Do proved to be the artistic medium of petitioning the government on public ills.
The director, Joshua Alabi, in the programme note described Talk N Do as “a musical theatre and socio-political piece that deals with the role of citizens in the bid to strengthen anti-corruption laws in the country.”