12 October 2013

Nigeria: An Encounter With 'The Shoemaker's Wonderful Wife'

As part of celebrations to mark the 8th Spanish Cultural Week, the Jos Repertory Theatre thrilled guests with a stage performance of Federico Garcia Lorca's 'The Shoemaker's Wonderful Wife' in Abuja.

Deputy Head of Mission, Guillame Monfort in his opening remark said, "every year we choose a common theme that is used as an inspiration. This year, we've chosen the figure and work of Federico García Lorca, one of the most renowned poets of the 20th century.

According to Monfort, "for those born in the 80s, this generation is the one of our grandparents. These two generations lived in very different contexts, but it is easy to notice that art can be a very good way of establishing bounds and communicating among generations. We have mapped out activities to bring culture and establish ties in a way that both Nigeria and Spain can benefit."

He stressed that art is a good way to establish communication between generations. "Flamenco, Theatre, Art and Spanish Gastronomy are events which highlight this year's celebration."

Drawing the attention of guests to the stage was the 80s styled phone the narrator held in his hand as he had a soliloquy preparing the minds of all present for what they were about to watch.

Treating themes bothering on gender sensitivity as well as the marrying of under-aged girls the artistes brought to present day the play written between 1926 and 1930 in the fully packed room.

The play tells the story of a volatile relationship between a married couple, the husband aged 53 is much older than his 18-year-old wife. The story follows the wife's struggle against her husband, the mayor, neighbours, suitors, and a 'boy'.

The shoemaker and his wife are shunned in their society because they are different. The shoemaker leaves the wife. She is very sad and sorry. The mayor, young man in the sash and young man in the hat all swoop in as soon as the shoemaker leaves, trying to woo her.

They all fail miserably. The wife stays loyal to the shoemaker. She has to open a cafe so that she has enough money to live on. The shoemaker, tired of a life on the road, is sorry and comes back disguised as a puppeteer. He tells the wife he is sorry and she accepts him back happily and warmly.

The young wife dreams of being with the likes of Emilio and José whom will shower her with gifts and all the luxuries women want from their men. So much that these dreams became the reality she pictures of her past life before her husband's 'disappearance'.

With lines like 'my sister is to blame for all this. Let lightening strike her and in the next breath he prays, 'God bless her soul', hilarious as they were also brought to fore the reality of human nature.

According to the play's director Patrick Jude-Oteh, "there was a lack of communication between them and the wife's dreams and aspirations were far removed from that of the shoemaker whose sole pre-occupation was living as peacefully as possible with his neighbours and fellow villagers.

"The issues raised are relevant for Nigeria presently due to the fact that this is one thorny issue that is presently rocking our homes , trying to peg an age for marriage."

Also expressing how oppressive women can be, the shoemaker narrates his ordeal to the Mayor who fancies his wife: "she forced me to drink three glasses full of un-boiled milk". The mayor pointing out that he drank it because he is a weakling brags about being married four times and now currently widowed didn't waste time in setting his women in their place by beating them.

Interpreting the piece was a challenge the crew encountered.

Oteh said balancing happenings in 1930s Spain with happenings in Nigeria without insulting or demeaning anyone posed a challenge. He said using a mostly Hausa soundtrack was initially experimental. "We found that it worked so we stuck with it. We also wanted to stay within safe limits with songs that we could interpret and know the meanings of what we were saying."

The piece which took two months of intense rehearsals lasted one hour thirty minutes and left the audience yearning for more after it ended.

Lorca was a Spanish poet, dramatist and theatre director. He became an international figure as an emblematic member of the Generation of '27. In 1936, he was executed by the Nationalist forces during the Spanish Civil War at the age of thirty eight.

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