Wat’s dis all about?… Raising the citizenry from despondency during recession
The Lagos Country Club and Ibadan Playhouse, in collaboration with OneSix Production, thrilled live theatre enthusiasts with another of its presentations, Wat’s Dis All About? Presented at the club’s amphitheatre, Ikeja, Lagos, last Sunday, the play, an adaptation of Woza Albert (Rise Up, Albert) examines the agonies Nigerians pass through daily to survive the hard economic situation, security challenges and the various government policy summersaults that have made things tough for the man in the street.
Originally performed in South Africa to tell the story of the inhuman treatment meted out to blacks by the minority white government during the Apartheid regime, the Ibadan Playhouse adapted the play to reflect the Nigerian reality, infusing local elements that would make anybody watching it for the first time take it for a Nigerian play.
The two-man act, directed by Oluwafiropo Ewenla, opens with Dede, a police officer (Simileoluwa Hassan) chasing Bobo (Toyin Oshinaike) around for being in possession of marijuana, a substance banned by the government. Employing play within a play technique, it portrays different scenarios of human life from religion to politics, street trading, hooliganism, commercial vehicle drivers and others; it also showcases deceit, suffering, betrayal, struggle, intrigues and other forms of maladjusted behaviours that truncate the smooth running of the society.
In all facets of the play, the people hinge their hope on religion, believing that when the Messiah comes all their sufferings and societal evils will cease. Against the counsel of Alexander Pope, which says: ‘blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed,’ the people expect so much from the Messiah; when he eventually shows up, they merely ask for what would take them out of their sufferings – selfish and immediate needs.
Wat’s Dis All About? satirically tells the Nigerian story. The duo displays a high level of proficiency in line delivery, body language and in comically interpreting their roles, which further make the audience see the diverse Nigerian problems.
Aside the fun and thrill, Wat’s Dis All About? remains a clarion call for the citizens to rise up to their responsibility, identify what they want and go for it. The play highlights the weakness of individualism, calling for a collective action to fight societal evils and institute order. Here, the play asks a critical question: ‘If Jesus Christ (the Messiah) returns to Nigeria today, what would the ordinary Nigerian require of him?’ Though this question gives Wat’s Dis All About? away, as a Christian play, especially as it uses Jesus Christ, the Messiah, as the Superman that would deliver the oppressed from his tormentors, the weak from the strong and citizens from the various government propagandas. It, however, shows the people are despondent and eager for a positive change in the polity and in the economy.
And from the people’s responses to this vital question, the play shows how the people, despite their need for help, do not really know the area they really need help, as they base their responses on trivial things such as commercial drivers asking for more passengers, traders wanting more customers, passengers wanting orderliness at the airport and others, when key issues that would put an end to their needs are not mentioned.
Taking a critical look at the underlying messages, the play no doubt portrays the Messiah in two lights –– a political figure and an invincible spiritual leader. As a political figure, it depicts him as one that would fight all the injustices in society, provide the people all they need and change the society for good, just as the Jews viewed his first coming.
The second, as a spiritual leader, presents him as having overwhelming powers to resurrect Nigeria’s past nationalists, from Herbert Macaulay to Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, Tafawa Balewa, Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Aminu Kano and others; and move the country forward.
Despite the satire, humour and the street jabs that give the play superlative performance act, the storyline moves from the sensual to celestial and keeps the audience on edge, as to the possibility of the Messiah being arrested and imprisoned by an earthly government, whose activities are not only questionable, but condemned by the people.
Here, the director creates a conflict. It would have been better to end the play in suspense, imprisoning the Messiah portrays him as a political leader, thus underplaying his divine being to create a farce.