The hero within

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By Iquo DianaAbasi

One-person shows are usually difficult to pull off on stage. That’s because it can be quite a task sustaining the audience’s interest for any length of time; but many of the solo performances at the 2018 Lagos Theatre Festival were far more gripping than some of the ones with multiple casts.

Kemi Lala Akindoju gives a stirring performance in Naked, written by the poet Titilope sonuga. It’s a tale of childhood, adolescence and coming of age in a society that forces one to grow up pretty fast. Naked dredges up nostalgia forone’s innocence, for a time past and what it means to be robbed mindlessly of one’s purity.

From happy-go-lucky days in Queen’s College to the undergrad years in the University of Lagos, we are treated to the lifestyle choices of a jolly teen who grew to become a resilienthustler, the intervening years signposted by the music and pop culture of those days.

Then one holiday, rape came into the picture, rape not by a stranger, but by an uncle. Akindoju has people gasping when she declares: “My mouth turns sour; my body begins to curdle…In that moment I am my mother’s daughter, but I am not. I don’t know what language to describe this in…”

But she soon shakes off the incident, moves on, falls in and out of love (read heartbreak) and soon grows to become the quintessential Lagos hustler, boasting of “Lala’s hustling toolkit” complete with deodorant, body spray,perfume,as well as powder and lipstick to “cover a multitude of sins”.

By turns hilarious and unabashed, Naked affirms that hard work pays, even when you toil in the entertainment industry where beauty is defined inspecific, narrow terms.And that you can make it even if a rise in the career isconsistently tied tolooks as opposed to competence.

The hustle, as we say in Lagos, is real. It taught Lalla to grow a new, thicker skin for every disappointment she faced. She speaks of being turned down after auditions because “you have a handsome face, but we are looking for a different beauty,” and “your face is quite angular, but …”

Beyond perseverance, Naked also validates the power of self-love in the healing process. Lala is every working woman’s woman – you want to be her, and you have faith in your own growth, because she is bold enough to tell it as it is.

In the end, the subject is still human, beautiful because of her cracks and all.

Chika Jones’ I Learnt to Walk Twice came armed with enough onions, peeled expertly in ways that could break the strongest of persons. Jones attempted to wear many personas in the 20 minutes that it took him to reel out a biography that began from before his parents met and peaked at the moment he embraced poetry as a means of healing.

Jones let us know that “I am a poet because if the world ended today, I would still be looking for ways to tell its stories into the void.”

Arranged in three parts, the performance was accompanied by softly strumming guitar strings, while the performer navigated the phases of his life in different footwear; each one a precursor to a different kind of experience, loss, or awakening. The issues he spoke of were both striking and relatable, and the mundane became extra powerful by virtueof the honesty with which Chika Jones expressed them

I learnt to walk twice took the audience on a journey through love, death and courageas experienced through Jones’ parents and his siblings. We fall in love with his father; a Christian Igbo man who marries a Yoruba Moslem; his mother. We love how they have a blended family, both lovers having had children from other relationships.They face trials as other regular families do, and we cheer them on in our hearts. Wedo not see his sister’s death coming, just as we do not reckon that his father will leave home, but the pain is palpable nonetheless.

So when he tells us: “I am learning to walk again, but this time there are no hands to hold; not even God’s”, we appreciate the sincerity with which he grabbed at poetry as the lone hand he holds while he learns to walk a second time.

In Esther’s Revenge (Written by Brenda Uphopho), a remorseful prisoner recounts her life of emotional, physical and verbal abuse at the hands of a Caucasian lover, and the events that led tothe lover’s death in 1953.

Directed by Kenneth Uphopho, this re-enactment of an actual event –performed up in the Freedom Park Museum—was as interactive as interactive could be.The audience, who would later become the jury who revisit the case and give a verdict, were sucked into the prisoner’s world. We were at times disappointed, at other times shocked, but mostly sympathetic to hertravails.

Although one could argue that the prisoner played the victim card quite convincingly; this was a woman who loved her man with everything she had—her body, her money and her heart. Sadly, she refused to see that he didn’t feel a speck of affection for her.

Early on in the relationship, sex between the couple was gentle and regular. Then gradually, it became wild, when it was notfor pleasure, it served well as a transaction, where Esther was always at the receiving end of her cunning, double-dealing partner.

“How could you think I would marry a black monkey like you!?” he snapped at her one day in the middle of an argument which turned our to be theirlast. The ensuing intimacy would be somewhat wilder and driven not by passion, but an urge to teach her a lesson.

It was self defence, it was self preservation, It was revenge, but I wasn’t thinking. When I picked up the knife and stabbed him 37 times, I still wasn’t thinking,” Esther (Christina Osuniyi) cries.

It is a confession to a crime of passion, yes; but does this make her deserving of the hangman’s noose? Majority of the 15-person jury did not think so.

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