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Soyinka Gives LagosThe Beatification of Area Boy

LAST Thursday, playwright Wole Soyinka took the drama-starved Lagos audience back into time to pry into a persistent human folly and ambition when the final day celebrationof this year’s Lagos Black Heritage Festival (LBHF) celebration turned into a dramatic thrill with a grand performance of Beatification of Area Boy.

The play written and directed by Soyinka, a renowned Professor of drama and literature set the evening in frenzy with pregnant pangs of suspense, bust of laughter and all the traits of holistic entertainment. Even in the deep technical and reflective nature of the production, marked by peculiarities in the use of language as well as long span of time, the large audiencefelt no boredom throughout the presentation.

The play brought to the fore the intrigue of love and funny thrills that marks Soyinka’s theatre. Dwelling on the bane of the Nigerian state as the playwright usually does, the play served a healthy dose of traditional music and spectacular costume with large cast strength of over 50 artistes. It was the first premiere of the play in Lagos which had its first outing in Leeds, England, from where it toured numbers of European countries including Australia and Jamaican.

Rich description, elaborate sense, and fascinating character are interwoven in a narrative style laced with side-splitting humour and elevated language. Staged as part of this year’s LBHF final day events, the play is a reminder of the relevance of the Nobel Laureate to the political, social and national development of the nation. Soyinka, who directed the play was upbeat during the event as people came en mass to watch the play, out-sitting the open space inside the park.

According to Soyinka,who is also the consultant to Lagos State government on BHF,Beatification of Area Boy isa play to draw rich lesson about Nigeria, as it unveils characters and actions that sometimes, funny but has shaped recent Nigeria history. Considering the bane of the play, its thematic trust and recent political development, Soyinka, who is a globally renownedplaywright, said that Beatification of Area Boy,though enriched with funny characters, is a lesson for today’s leaders.  The elements in the play make it very relevant to the present democratic leaders and the masses to learn that all are interconnect in a society.

He further stated the production takes audience “through the seamy underbelly of a bustling, chaotic and predatory environment that still seethes beneath the surface of Lagos, despite all physical transformation since the days of the military, indeed, Lagos would no longer be Lagos without that underbelly”.

The scholar, who described the performance as his own gift to the Lagos Black Heritage Festival, said this of the production:

“The play is set in the middle of military dictatorship. Action centres on a day in the life of a rather unusual ‘megadi’in charge of an upscale plaza that jostles with a slum environment. The ‘megadi’, not only looks after the plaza but overseas the local habituees, shoppers, and other oddities to the area, among them a disbarred lawyer with a slippery seizure on reality”.

Beatification of Area Boyas directed by Soyinka,features cast replete with established artistes, comprising veteran guest artiste and other artistes of the National Troupe.  Among the star acts are Sir Peter Badejo, Ropo Ewenla, Makinde Adeniran, Sola Roberts Iwaotan, Jennifer Osammor, Wale Ojo, Ijeoma Agu, Jebutu Mofehintolaoluwa, Tunji Oyelana, Adeola Aroso, Precious Anyanwu, Toyin Oshinike, Fakunle Rotimi, Tunji Sotimirin, Ife Owosuna, Kemi Akindoju, Austin Onuoha, Akinbulu Oladimeji, Okorie Michael, Omoyele Oluwaseyi, Anthony Abayomi and others.

Thematically,The Beatification of Area Boy is an example of static, ritualistic drama, an extended exposition of alienated and plaintive existence in a postcolonial and post traditional world. In such a world, modern conditions co-exist with pre-modern, ethnic, and traditional ones. The play’s central figures are the Barber, who is superstitious to a fault; the Trader, who is naive and ignorant; Mama Put, a “chop-bar” operator, who seems all heart and bile; and the mad, disbarred lawyer (Judge), who believes that his prayers influence the morning sun. The distance between affluent and poor in this play is captured in the stark contrast between the towering modern shopping center with its sharp concrete steps and cold clear glass doors and dirty, pot-holed, low-lying areas in which the Barber, Trader, and Mama Put ply their trades and bemoan their fate.

The single exception to this pathetic cast of characters, who otherwise lack a profound understanding of their plight, is Sandal a university drop-out, “La Plaza” security guard, and leader of the Area Boys — played with great, if sometimes excessive, cockiness and suavity by Femi Elufowoju, Jr. Sanda alone seems to understand the situation in both Lagos and Nigeria as a whole. As he explains to his old flame, Miseyi, he had dropped out of university, one year short of graduating, because as a security officer, he earns more than the salary of a college graduate. Sanda is astute, even cunning, and the play takes great pains to set him and the Lagos Area Boys he represents, apart from the other criminals that are satirised and demonised. He is presented as a figure of counter-culture, a better version of free enterprise, and so on. But Sanda’s version of free enterprise nevertheless perpetuates the criminal culture and mentality that plagues such communities.

Near the beginning of the play, Sanda calls Mama Put “some kind of Mother Courage . . . even down to the superstitious bit.” Sanda is wrong, however. He, not Mama Put, is the “Mother Courage” of Area Boy: he is the one who makes other people rob and cheat while providing himself with a shield of distance and deniability. In the end, even the money for his own flight and relocation comes not from anything he does, but rather from Miseyi’s rejection of her wealthy fiancé.

The play’s songs, music, and dance were engaging and infectious, with the minstrel’s simple guitar songs, ably played by Tunji Oyelana, effectively underscoring both fundamental moods and moral perspectives. With the exception of Denise Orita, whose playing of Mama Put was grating and one-dimensional, the performers provided an excellent sense of the dominant accents.

The performance was attended by dignitaries among them the Governor of River State, Mr. Rotimi Amechi, former PDP Senator, Mr. Ifeanyi Ararume, members of several literary and cultural bodies and host of other enthusiasts.

This year’s Lagos Black Heritage Festival has Drama, Dance Drama as its theme. Other highlights that featured includes, a drama, The Tragedy of King Christophe, The Night of the Poets, Seizing Sambissa, a panting exhibition of youngsters, Snapshots

And The Tarzan Monologues, a play written and directed by Wole Oguntokun

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