Saving Earth, Liberating Women
By Iquo DianaAbasi
The 2018 Lagos Theatre Festival was a big bang. With 110 shows by 47 companies across a dozen venues in the state and with expected guests put at 5000, it was the most wide ranging edition—themes and otherwise—of the festival since its humble beginnings in 2013, when it held in one location and featured only four companies.
At the opening ceremony (27 Feb.), it was announced that the British Council will no longer sponsor the festival going forward. The festival will now be managed by a Board of Trustees working with a newly appointed Festival Director, Sola Oyebade.
As expected from a gathering so huge, the subjects tackled by the producers were as varied and complex as they were engaging: pollution, human rights, infidelity and abuse, to mention a few.
One of my “Fringe” interests was “Slice of Arts,” (staged at the Oak Garden Cultural Center, Igando). It shows a community repeatedly neglecting its ‘Mama’, leaving her to suffer ailments which cure seem out of reach, while her children bear the consequences of their actions and inaction.
Mama Eden in this play is no doubt the earth, with her hands full and tortured by the scourge of a heavily polluted environment: burnt bushes, industrial waste, natural disasters, street urchins, terrorism and even money-swallowing animals (sounds familiar?). Her children are culprits and so must work towards restoring her to fine health.
The 3Rs of remediation – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle—is woven into the storytelling. But the earth’s healing will not be complete with this prescription alone. On the flip side, the story laments the decline in human interaction as technology devises ever new ways to expand virtual communication.
“Who will tell us those stories under the Baobab trees?” one of the characters lament.
“August meeting” is a feminist conversation which first shines a light on the self, before pointing fingers or taking up arms against those who continually encourage and enforce the oppression of women. Written by Paul Ugbede, and directed by Kenneth Uphopho, this is a deeply moving play about a group of women who examine their everyday troubles following the success of the historic Aba Women’s protest of 1929.
The protests came on the heels of taxes imposed by the Colonial administration at the time and to be paid by market women. The women argued that if they were not allowed to own property in their name – since they existed largely as the property of their husbands—why then should they be taxed?
The feminist movement in Nigeria could probably draw from this epochal event in our national history. The “women’s war” raged from Obolo to Owerinta and Etim Ekpo, the protagonists fighting and resisting an oppression that even their husbands dared not raise their voices against.
In the wake of the 1929 protests, a widow (Nwakego) who has endured all the requisite widowhood rites, is locked out of her late husband’s house, because she had no children. Her problems are further compounded for refusing to be married off a second time to her brother-in-Law; Nwakego (played by Ego Obaru) then has to deal with the ridicule of being labelled as barren, a taunt that pushes her to confess that her husband was the reason for their childlessness.
This confession is a catalyst for a ‘Me Too’ moment amongst the women, as they realise that they are imprisoned in more ways than one. “We are tools of our husbands’ pleasure, even when we are not in the mood,” one of the women says.
And so begins the audiences’ journey into a world where women endure the most unimaginable repressions, all in the name of keeping to laid-down rules of society: female genital mutilation, marital rape, verbal abuse and so much more. These stories make us value the characters more, and salute their strength and resilience. Of these characters, the most memorable for me remains Mgbeke (played by Odera Orji). The only seeming opposition to the idea of fighting the status quo, Mgbeke stands out not just as a colourful divergent thread on the tapestry of the play, but as a character to be loved – her doubt and fear springs out of a childhood experience which branded her as ‘incomplete and not good enough’. Her quibbles, taunts and facial expressions give necessary spice and humour to the play.
The women are reminded by Nwayeruwa, (the women leader who prompted the riots, and was jailed for three months on that account) that the greatest enemy of women is not men, but the women who enforce the laws that keep women down in the first place – this is a truth that hits a sore spot. “August meeting” speaks not just of oppression, but of the right and capacity which women have to take their freedom. With a cast including veterans like Gloria Anozie-Young (Nwanyeruwa) and Ina Erizia (Ikonnia), Raconteur Productions’ debut stage production was a delight.
What does a man do if his wife decides that she would rather be in the arms of a stranger whom she has never met than in the cold arms of her husband? Where does one draw the line between morality and paraphilia, and when does the latter become unacceptable in a relationship?
These are some of the questions that ran through my mind within the first five minutes of watching “3Some”, the risqué drama written by Jude Idada. Idada is no neonate in the theatre space but it has to be said that this production is his most daring yet. It takes the saying ‘grab ‘em by the balls’ to a whole new level, costumes, dialogue, props and all.
Beyond the racy scenes, however, the thought-provoking plot and engaging dialogue are the best parts of this play. To the extent that satisfaction, sexual preferences (and fantasies) are some of the important issues that adults need to discuss when they enter into a relationship, “3Some” provokes a conversation that couples must have if they desire to keep the fire of their passion burning.
We begin to love the mother who moves into her daughter’s home hoping to help fix the crack in the marriage, one that pushes the couple to separate. Through this therapist-cum-religious mother, Idada proceeds to give the husband—and clearly all the men in the audience—a detailed tutorial on the art of pleasuring a woman.
“The first thing about giving a woman a head is patience…” she begins. The audience gasps as they watch the imagined scenario on the stage with a lady clad only in gold-dust! Expectedly, husband is somewhat embarrassed at the proposition and the play takes an unexpected twist from here on.
The play also touches on hypocrisy and religion, and how these lead to suppressions that eventually affect people’s relationships negatively. Jude Idada’s understanding of human nature is exemplified in his masterful capturing of the many faces of the complexities of human emotion, of physical attraction, and of hidden agendas. In the end, the 3some is not as we had assumed, and we learn that sometimes motivations could be selfish and skin deep.