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Soyinka’s Month Is Evolving As A Lagos Theatre Season
The birth month of Wole Soyinka, the country’s most distinguished playwright, has inadvertently become a season of theatre performances in Lagos. Every year for some time now, all the weekends of the first month of the second half of the year are filled with productions of Soyinka’s plays. July 2017 kicked off yesterday with Crown Troupe’s interpretation of the Swamp Dwellers, the playwright’s 1974 play about confrontation of old and new society, at the Freedom Park. The play runs again at 7pm today, as it does all through next weekend and the weekend after. The production ends on July 22. In Abeokuta, Soyinka’s birthplace, located in the north of Lagos, organisers of the Wole Soyinka International Cultural Exchange Project, WSICE, running from July 12 to 15, will screen excerpts from a TV documentary on Soyinka’s collection of poems, Samarkand & Other Markets. The WSICE’s OPEN DOOR SERIES WS83 is presenting Death and The Kings Horseman, arguably Soyinka’s most widely acclaimed play, with the entire cast made up of students of the University of Lagos. The play is directed by Bisi Adigun, himself a playwright, who flew in from Ireland for the project. Wole Oguntokun’s Theatre Republic, a repertory theatre located in the upmarket Lekki Phase 1 in the east of Lagos, will feature The Strong Breed, described as “a tragedy that ends with an individual sacrifice for the sake of the communal benefit”, from July 27 to 29. Mr. Oguntokun could be credited for helping to kickstart the idea of “Season of Soyinka plays” every year.

…The Carnival Spills Into August
Oxzygen Koncepts could not squeeze in its production of Wole Soyinka’s King Baabu into the July 2017 season of Soyinka plays, “because the month is already quite busy”, according to its artistic director, Toritseju Ejoh. So this nimble Theatre production company is doing the next best thing; presenting the play every weekend (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) of August 2017. Venue is Freedom Park, at 7pm every show day. Google Books describes King Baabu as “a naked satire on the rule of General Abacha in Nigeria”. The play, it explains, “chronicles the debauched rule of General Basha Bash who takes power in a coup and exchanges his general’s uniform for a robe and crown, re-christening himself King Babu”. Mr. Ejoh could not respond to several calls and sms messages about who is directing the play and who are in the cast. His company’s last production of King Baabu was directed by Toyin Oshinnaike in September 2015 and it starred Ejoh himself in the lead role, as well as Tessy Brown, OlaRotimi Fakunle, Seun Kentebe, Abiodun Kassim, Emmanuel Nwaodu, Kevin Umweni,Ajibola Fasola, Femi Durojaiye, Ahide Adum, Ikechukwu Asonye, Bola Akinde, Andrew Adigwe, Franklin Bob-Chike and Tunbosun Shadare.

Unstable Is, Quite Unusual
An angry mob of villagers charges to the palace of King Ido, the Oba of Ozolua, holding a middle aged lady they accuse of prostitution. They want her dead by hanging. “Esewi here bears the strings of lust”, laments one woman, “and every lusting eye she satisfies”. The King is unimpressed. “Who is evil?” he asks the mob. “The one who welcomes you to her home, or the man who abandons his home?” His orders to keep the whore in the palace turns out to be the least intriguing of the monarch’s many decisions in the aftermath. King Ido turns the slut into his Queen, against everyone’s objections, including his chiefs’. Esewi doesn’t deny her nymphomaniac tendencies. And she wonders severally why the King is so much in love when he should readily discard her. Her royal majesty is caught red handed sleeping with farmers, labourers; anyone who can venture. Her shameless husband personally travels to Uzebu village to rescue the wayward Esewi, when he hears she had shared King Ediae’s bed. He allows his own prince to be committed into slavery to release The Queen. Ozolua eventually goes to war with Uzebu on account of the Queen’s adultery. And the King, having won the war, dies from a sniper’s bullet. No, the play is not finished. For stretching the bounds of belief, Dickson Ekhaguere’s Unstable performed for just one day (Saturday, June 24) at the Muson Centre, wins some plaudits as a work of art. The text attempts to be poetic, which works in some places and is awkward in others, but the content is quite detailed. It so happened, in the end, that the story was all a dream. What a twist? The thing about having a thoroughly professional cast and cast and crew is that you struggle to find blemishes. Veteran theatre director Benson Tomoloju has assembled a stellar cast; Tina Mba as the Queen, Bassey Okon as King Ido and Ropo Ewenla as the King Ediae. Yes, there are challenges of elocution by some of the also rans and you could argue with the depth of the message, but this production, almost solely sponsored by Duvaj Avanja, a chemical engineer with love for the arts, is inspired.

Okoye’s Intimate Exploration of Poverty
Want a novel to take to the beach? Not Ifeoma Okoye’s The Fourth World. It’s a stomach churning, extremely detailed, exploration of poverty. Not for anyone who sees literature as entertainment. No resident of Kassanga Avenue, a dirt poor neighbourhood located on the fictional outskirts of Enugu, can beat his chest he can guarantee more than a nutrient-poor meal a day. In the hospital where Akalaka died, there were no medicines, no dressings for wounds, and relatives of patients had to go and buy intravenous fluids at terribly short notice. Mrs. Okoye, wife of the late philosopher and nationalist Mokwugo Okoye, is comfortable with fighting with words. Her last novel, the ANA award winning Men Without Ears, published in 1984, went to such length as to insinuate a military coup against the civilian dispensation. In The Fourth World, Mrs. Okoye goes to places where the country’s middle class would rather leave behind. A staunch member of the left leaning segment of the transition between the Soyinka-Achebe and the Osofisan-Omotosho generations of Nigerian writers, she sees fictional prose as platform to right wrongs. The Fourth World may exude an angry tone throughout its 300 page length, but it’s a very important work.
• Compiled by staff of Festac News Agency

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Wole Soyinka


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