Ada the Country Musical Through the Gender Lens

Yinka Olatunbosun 

Healing. That’s the emotional space that the producers of the star-studded musical, ‘Ada the country’ created for many women at the Shell Hall, MUSON last weekend in Lagos. For the men, it was a mixture of torture and admiration to watch each female character on stage re-evoke her life struggles through dramatic monologues and passionately sung lines that speak to themes of sisterhood, grief, women emancipation and humanity.

Directed by Kemi Lala-Akindoju and powered by Doyenne Circle Productions, the 100-cast show was a switch from screen to stage for most of the popular faces of Nollywood in the drama namely, Joke Silva, Tosin Adeyemi, Rikiya Graham-Douglass, Kate Henshaw, Chioma ‘Chigul’ Omeruah, Oluchi Odii, Imoh Eboh, Kemi Lala-Akindoju and Patience Ozokwor. A test of true artistry, the musical is built on the strength of acting and singing skills of each character. With a romantic twist to the tale, the plot is an assemblage of stories of women that are all too familiar: the jilted girlfriend, the divorcee, the single mother, the working class woman ambushed by toxic masculinity and patriarchy in the workplace as well as a grieving mother.

Written by the award-winning poet-playwright, Titilope Sonuga, ‘Ada the Country’ revolves around the main plot of Ada, a woman who suffers the terrible loss of her child in a fire. That led her to depression. With the help of other women drawn from two generations who have had their share of pains, she was able to heal and rekindle her marital bond with her husband. 

Ultimately, the stories in the musical are not curated to antagonise men but to help their understanding of the plight of women. Men have mothers, sisters, daughters and nieces and they are aware of domestic violence against women; rape, kidnapping and murder of young women as well as workplace culture that positions women as second-class citizens either through discriminatory pay structure or limited managerial positions for women. 

Alongside the comic relief from Omeruah, the actor-director, Lala-Akindoju put up a stellar performance on stage with her reverberating voice as she took on the antagonist character to the protagonist- Ada. While Henshaw reinforced Silva’s delivery of the sung lines with her own voice, it was clear that the performance style was collaborative as much as complementary. The mothers-in-law, Silva and Ozokwor embraced with grace the roles of the ‘elders in the room’ – the much needed intervention to set things straight amongst feuding couples and rival siblings. Though written in 2019, the play rings true especially in the light of the current abominable culture of using the social media to settle scores with spouses, ex-lovers or celebrity siblings.
Using the power of choreographed dance interludes, music and beautiful costumes, the director helped to curb the fatigue that long monologues could bring to the audience.

Perhaps the Achilles’ heel for the musical was the lighting. Ada’s marital home was poorly-lit; most of the facial expressions to communicate the agony of the grieving couple was lost but made up for by the allure of the male voice –Ada’s husband’s- emanating from the upper chamber of the thoughtfully built set. Reviving the tradition of building sets through a careful, technical interpretation of the plot, the multi-unit home was simple yet purposeful.

At curtain call, Marian Ogaziechi, the Executive Producer of the play revealed that she was inspired by Bolanle Austen Peters to pursue a career in the theatre. Her mother thought she was a failure when she abandoned her study of sciences to embrace theatre. But the urge to tell her story to shape the future of women overtook the fear of displeasing her mother. 
“I did this out of an experience I had. I’m a theatre artist. One of the ways that we can reach out to people is by storytelling. I found that there was a gap in reaching the urban woman. It’s as if they don’t go through problems- all rosy just as you see online. One of the characters played my story. I felt it was time to share the experiences of every urban woman. From the university days to NYSC to the boardroom, women go through a lot. I believe everyone here can relate to the experiences of all the superb cast that we have shown,’’ she said.

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