With a first-rate cast, virtual flawless line delivery and brilliant stage business, a recent stage play in Lagos thrilled its audience. But it could have done better without a few production glitches, writes Yinka Olatunbosun
Years ago, the Nigerian theatre was consigned to the dark recesses of history. Little patronage, no thanks to the rampaging onslaught Nollywood in the entertainment industry, was all the record of time showed. However, the theatre culture has been revived through the active support of corporate organisations. New breed of theatre directors and producers are emerging.
Thespian Family Theatre, one of the emerging theatre production groups, seems intent on demonstrating the artistic will to sustain theatre viewership. Last weekend in Lagos, the organisation with the support of First Bank Plc, staged the play, Mad King of Ijudiya at the Agip Hall, Muson Centre, Onikan, Lagos. Written and produced by Ayo Jaiyesimi, the star-studded play was performed on December 29 and 30, 2012.
Mad King of Ijudiya is a drama set against the backdrop of the biblical conflict that surrounds the birth of Jesus Christ. King Ero ba ni' se (Segun Arinze), the ruler of Ijudiya, receives the news of the arrival of a rival king with trepidation. He dispatches his warriors to invade the nearby kingdoms and takes the natives as slaves. He plunders and conquers in a bid to establish his sovereignty over the land of Samisa.
The head of his warriors, Iberu (Akin Lewis) takes the former Queen of Samisa as his mistress whilst the King, against his initial reluctance, takes the Bride of Samisa (Oyindamola Johnson) village into his inner chambers. The Bride, who has been betrothed to Eliasi (Iyke Okechukwu) back home in Samisa becomes the envy of other wives of the King who live in fear of the mother of the King (Joke Silva). The Queen Mother is a manipulative and covetousness woman who keeps her daughters-in-law constantly on their toes. She insists that the King should marry the Bride of Samisa in defiance of all the signs and warnings against such oppressive move. The chiefs, Feyisetan (Toyin Oshinaike), Arole (Paul Adams) and Agbabiaka (Okonedo Omokaro) tremble before the King and sometimes fail to give him advice when necessary.
The rulership of Ijudiya is an archetype of a nation led by a tyrannical leader who is surrounded by sycophants that seek the regent's favour through shunning truth and justice. King Ero ba ni se is consumed by the thirst for power which leads to his untimely death.
As characteristic of the plays of the Thespian Family Theatre, the drama is a complete theatrical spectacle with a 65-man cast. Dance was a predominant element of the play and functioned as good scene transition tool. The costumes were mostly with brilliant colours and the dancers displayed the fluidity of movement on stage.
In terms of characterisation, Joke Silva was not just a queen in the play but the queen of the stage. Her stage presence was felt in the way she caused silence in the auditorium before she uttered her first lines that were rendered eloquently in her vintage class of rendition. Arguably, and necessarily, Segun Arinze was the star of performance. Put in the street language, he "killed the show" through his emphatic delivery of lines, voice modulation and convincing act of mimesis. As expected, Iyke Ikechukwu is always a delight to watch and has the comedy staying power even when performing before ice-faced audience. It will be a complete oversight to skip mentioning the apt casting of the supple and fair-skinned Monalisa Chinda for the role of Epo Oyinbo in the drama.
Still, the first performance was marked by few technical issues. The set design was still in progress when the members of the audience were already seated in the hall. Sounds of hammer played drums in the ears of the audience before the sonorous singers took control of the annoying auditory game. Some of the actors were also being economical with slaps and kicks, substituting a supposed serious scene with a rather laughable scenario. The use of choreography in fight scenes has been known to create plausible moments in any given dramatic action. Dramatic productions with duels, wrestling and war make good use of choreography and it is even more essential in plays with heavy cast to create even distribution of characters on stage and prevent stage accidents one of which was barely saved at the scene of the magic dancers who were toying with fire that fell off the stage in to the auditorium.
The use of songs in the play however was reduced to mere entertainment in the play which is markedly different from the classic role of chorus in the traditional theatre. The chorus is a fundamental part of the drama that helps in the interpretation of the action. Hence, the songs should have lyrics that are relevant to the thematic preoccupation of a play and not just something to tickle the audience' fancy. Although the dramatic creations of Ayodele Jaiyesimi have biblical leanings, the subject matters are universal. Autocracy, love and survival are the recurring subjects in the play.
In the audience at the opening of the play also were children from the Little Saints Orphanage who sat quietly and watched intently as the drama unfolded. The play scored its high points as an entertaining family drama. Hopefully, in the subsequent drama from the Thespian Family Theatre, someone will lose the bet for predicting that the drama will end with Infinity's Olori Oko.