By Henry Akubuiro
If you weren’t at Terra Kulture two weeks ago, perhaps you missed one of the greatest theatre performances in Nigeria in 2021. From the folk songs, elaborate costumes, masterly enactment and thematic social relevance, the command performance of Strings, a folk music drama by the National Troupe of Nigeria, glisaded to the top of contemporary theatrical bar.
The cast showed a surfeit of experience and quality, made up of seasoned thespians and a sprinkling of youth. Soibifaa Dokubo played the role of the narrator, reliving the evolution of the modern Nigerian state. Before then, the audience had snippets of pre-colonial Nigeria, led by kings with acrimonious neighbours. It wasn’t a rosy past, but the present is less rosy.
In two hours, Strings offers a stranger to Nigeria or a young mind an opportunity to learn Nigerian history and socio-political realities. It’s positives were in yoking the various strands, cultural and values, that defined Nigeria’s diversity.
The early part of the plot unfurls the coming of the colonialists, Flora Shaw’s role in the emergence of the name “Nigeria”, and the amalgamation of 1914 that united the northern and southern protectorates to form one nation.
The commander of the West African Frontier Force spoke of the immense benefits of having a united country. But suspicion was rife. The tribal leaders weren’t easily disposed to the plot of the colonial adventurer, but the union was inevitable.
The narrator led us to the advent of nationalism. Great names, such as Nnamdi Azikiwe, Obafemi Awolowo, Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Funmilayo Ransome Kuti, among others, featured prominently. The heroics of legends, like Queen Amina and Moremi, were advertised. The classroom scene was an avenue to learn more about the country’s history outside what the narrator recounted and what the thespians dramatised on stage.
There was a medley of Nigerian folksongs and melodious rendering, from Ijaw to Igbo and Yoruba, accompanied with fitting dances. The performance educated, as well as entertained the audience.
When the white Governor-General, Robertson, declared Nigeria’s independence in 1960, the stage was ignited with celebrations, and the process of nation building began amid civil war, political upheavals and social dysfunction. As the narrator told the audience, “There is no end to nation building.”
The ultimate message in Strings, explained the producer, “is the need for us as Nigerians to reflect on our shared humanity and intercultural affinities. It is a musical drama that explores the potency of the live stage as an instrument of public enlightenment.
“Every performance of Strings is inspired by faith, hope and optimism in a better and greater new Nigeria where love, peace, progress and unity shall continue to thrive and reign.”
In most parts, the casting of Strings scored a high mark save for wrong choices of colonial archetypes. For instance, though the actress who played the role of Flora Shaw and Queen Elizabeth were spot on in her interpretation, her personality and physique didn’t effectively fit into those roles. A light skin character is best fitted for such.
Also, the classroom scenes cast a slight pall on the show. There was visible exuberance on the part of the characters and evident histrionics. It won’t be out of place to suggest a limitation of these classroom episodes. But the lighting effects were excellent.
The costumier did a wonderful job with the ensembles of the thespians. The robes of the various Nigeria kings and the apparels of the colonial masters were well tailored. The servants and the army were elegant to behold, as well as the subalterns. Overall, Strings, as a performance, is brilliant. The playwright/Mike Anyanwu deserves accolades.
At the end of the performance, the Artistic Director, National Troupe of Nigeria, Ahmed Mohammed Ahmed, who was appointed six months ago, was a happy man. The command performance, he said, marked the end of the National Troupe’s 2021 production series following on the heels of the first ever production of the Children’s Creative Station in Bauchi, northeastern part of the country, two months ago, and the presentation of diverse Nigerian dances on Nigeria Day at the 2020 International Expo in Dubai, United Arab Emirate.
Explaining the presentation of Strings at the Terra Kulture, he said it was “a creative and cultural engagement with the historical and rigorous socio-political journey of Nigeria through the threshold of nationhood. Within its various dramatic interplays of doubts, mistrusts, rejections and acceptance, Strings draws attention towards the strengths of our shared heritage, our unity, peace and progress.”
In its bid to pursue the core mandates of presenting, promoting and preserving the performing arts of dance, drama and music in Nigeria, Ahmed said the National Troupe of Nigeria had some successful collaborations with some key institutions and private stakeholders in the culture and entertainment sectors.
In his goodwill message at the command performance of Strings, Ifeoma Anyanwu, the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Information, said today’s historical event “recounts the socio-political travails of Nigeria from the years of amalgamation, pre independence, and the democratic face of the present day Nigeria.”
Over the years, Nigeria’s culture, she said, has served as a veritable spring board in stirring up our diverse artistic expressions for social mobilisation of over three hundred and fifty (350) vibrant cultural manifestations in the country.
She added, “Nigeria’s robust creative industry, from music, film, fashion, cinematography, arts, performing art, photography, craft, gastronomy, etc., are viable tools for socio-economic growth and empowerment of our people, and the sector has continually scaled great heights both on continental and global levels.”
Professor Sunday Ododo, the CEO/General Manager, National Theatre of Nigeria, in his remarks, eulogised the Artistic Director, Ahmed Mohammed, for putting up a good show,” Under half a year, he has done so much. The National Troupe of Nigeria is back on course. Nigeria is lucky at this stage to have round holes filled with round pegs in the cultural sector.”
The command performance was watched by Martins Adaji, former Artistic Director, National Troupe of Nigeria, among other dignitaries.