Group revs up live theatre in Ibadan with ‘The Engagement’

A scene from the play

A scene from the play

The Engagement is a three-man Ibadan PlayHouse showcase that ran from February 12 through 14, 2016. Elemide, an easily excitable man suffering from breathing problems goes to the home of his long-term neighbour and friend, Chief Madayekan (a retired soldier) to woo his daughter (Ronke – a firebrand). This would appear to be a very easy task – Chief Madayekan and Elemide gets along like house on fire; Ronke has always been in love with Elemide – on the surface the stars had aligned for this love story to play out. Unfortunately, things don’t work out that way.

The story itself is a pretty simple and straightforward comedy. But the director, Mr. Niji Akanni, managed to work with the actors to such a point that the interpretation of their roles became quite seamless. Every scene had the audience howling in laughter. In all these they were also able to put messages about contemporary life and politics across to the audience without being heavy-handed.

The most intriguing thing about the play is how, through the settings and the acting, the actors were able to bring the past and the present together. Some scenes dragged a little, but this does not hit the theatre-goer until the final scene has played itself out.

One of the things that stood out was the strong female lead, who has a sense of history and would be considered ‘strong-headed’ in a Nigeria presently suffering under the weight of patriarchy. Unlike a lot of plays where such women are usually directed to come across as shrill, angry and at the end of the day, be ‘beaten’ into ‘submission,’ Ronke stands her ground and passes her points across – a rarity – strong and loveable.

Ropo Ewenla, Taiwo Ibikunle and Adebisi Dedeke were the actors that recently performed Femi Osofisan’s The Engagement at Theatre Arts Auditorium, University of Ibadan, Ibadan. It was directed by Niji Akanni. With the play, newly formed theatre group, Ibadan Playhouse, will begin a gradual revival of theatre culture that has left the ancient city famous for its rusted roofs. One of the brains behind the project, Mr. Ewenla, gave perspective to the infinite possibilities open to Ibadan Playhouse in the group’s stated mission.

According to Ewenla, “The idea has been in our heads for a long time – me and a couple of friends – but this is the first time we are coming out so that the rest of the world can see us. And then, basically, it is part of the response to stop us from complaining too much about things not happening. Let’s take the bull by the horns; let’s see what we can do creatively because if we are really creative, we should be able to solve the problems that daunt us. The idea, when you break it away from the seemingly philosophical perspective, is to create a platform of quality entertainment, particularly through stage plays, a programmed, regular season of entertainment. That would at least offer a weekend of entertainment for people in Ibadan.

“And then we’ve got the collaboration of the Theatre Arts Department and a whole lot of other people. There are people who bought as many as 10 tickets. The idea is to grow and nurture an audience, nurture them on the kind of things we do, to be able to reach out to them, at the shortest possible time, with very limited cost.

“So, we’ve been doing a lot of social media mobilization, one-on-one contact, through short message services and phone calls and we are impressed even though we didn’t have a full house. Our first show which was dedicated to students of secondary schools was a wow! We actually had to turn back some students who didn’t buy tickets ahead of time”.

Ewenla also noted that being a travelling theatre group, Ibadan Playhouse was open to tour schools and impact students and teachers and engage them on issues of theatre. Ewenla said, “We call ourselves Ibadan Playhouse but we are not bound; we are theatre artists without boundaries. And if you look at the number of plays that we’ve lined up, they are mobile plays and we are not looking at any complicated sets; those are the kinds of texts we want to translate.
“This means that if somebody says, ‘oh you’re talking about Ibadan and Lagos all the time, when are we going to see some of the things that Ibadan Playhouse is doing in Abuja or in Port Harcourt, or anywhere in Nigeria’. We just need somebody who has a venue and has grown an audience and then we’ll go there. We can easily move between Ife, Ikire, Gbogan and as far away as Abuja.
“About the secondary school students, it’s already being ingrained in the whole thinking process. The plays are going to be family-friendly to a large extent. So, we do not assault delicate sensibilities, particularly of children. We hope to do three days –Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays – once in a month and the first day will be dedicated to children.
“And we hope somewhere along the line corporate sponsorship will be able to say, ‘we will like these children to come and see this’. We are also encouraging the schools that if they want to see more we can be invited to their schools to perform, because it’s a mobile production. And hopefully we’ll be able to have moments of interaction with the students after each play, for the students and their teachers, in attendance, so that they are just not being entertained. We are also opening their eyes to the vagaries of life.
“They can ask real examination situation questions, about plot, settings, characterization and we can use our own experiences to respond to their questions; so it becomes something concrete”.

Meanwhile, the Lagos Country Club, GRA, Ikeja, is set to host the play next week Friday, March 25, 2016. Time is 2pm & 7pm.
Lagos Country Club prides itself as the number one family club in Nigeria and has promised to support programmes that will encourage bonding between families. Concrete Communications is the facilitator of the project because of its corporate belief in the arts as a potent medium to influence behaviour positively. It is expected that stage performances will be a monthly event involving the three parties in an audience growing initiative for live drama.

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