Saro the Musical goes to Shaw Theatre, London

Cast of Saro

‘Culture is the best way to launder Nigeria’s image abroad,’ says Austen-Peters

Last year, frontline culture production house, Bolanle Austen-Peters Productions (BAP), took its second musical theatre showpiece, Wakaa the Musical, to a wider audience at the Shaw Theatre, London, after it made its rounds thrilling Nigerians at home. Its encouraging London reception, the producer said, spoke clearly how Nigerians and Africans have under-served themselves in allowing others, the west particularly, to tell their stories, often with a denigrating slant.

But the fiercely patriotic producer and director of Wakaa the Musical, Mrs. Bolanle Austen-Peters, would have the narrative woven otherwise. Now after Wakaa’s successful showing in London, the company is taking its premiere musical theatre showpiece, Saro the Musical, to Shaw Theatre, London, from August 24 through 29, with a 70-man cast and crew.

While announcing the plan at a briefing last week, Austen-Peters said, “We’re taking Saro to London at Shaw Theatre. This is our second time of showcasing Nigerian culture in London. It’s an incredible journey. First time was last year; it was interesting, our virgin tour. Last year was extremely successful. It shows Nigerian stories are in demand. People need to see and hear the beautiful culture we have. For a long time, we left our stories for others to tell. Now, we’ve taken ownership of our stories.

“When we started out, nobody thought we’d get this far. We’re grateful to our sponsors, who brought out the best in us through supporting us. This couldn’t have been possible without the incredible cast and crew.”

Austen-Peters also noted that no amount of diplomatic shuttle and advertising spend, wasteful at best, on international TVs could achieve half of what her cultural productions would do for the country abroad in terms of image laundering. “This is the best way to launder the image of a country abroad, better than all the adverts on CNN and other foreign TV stations,” she added.

She also noted that the renaissance going on now in Nigeria’s theatre sector is as a result of the inspiring role her company was providing the entire industry alongside the pool of talents she was breeding, which she said was also feeding the movies as film producers now poach from the pool. One such notable talent is Patrick Diabuah.

Her unique mix of old and young acting talents, Austen-Peters noted, is also pacesetting, as Bimbo Manuel attested. She also said the dearth of good performing spaces drew a lot of actors to the movies. Joining this London tour with Saro is filmmaker, Kunle Afolayan, whom Austen-Peters said “recognises the important platform of theatre and identifying of raw talent.”

Afolayan acknowledged this and stated simply, “I have done stage in the past, but this is like refreshing what I already have in me!”One of the sponsors, MTN Foundation, led by its Executive Secretary, Nonny Ugbomah, commended Austen-Peters for her foresight and vision, adding, “She’s brought a fantastic theatre and she gets it done. We have huge number of talents and the arts and culture sector is very dear to us. There is a renaissance going on and we feel the need to support it. We are behind you 100 per cent. Wakaa is the cheeky sibling of Saro. Now, Saro will go show who is the elder. Last year was incredibly fantastic. We also supported Kakadu in South Africa. We have so many talented young Nigerians being groomed. Our prayer is for many more theatres to come up in Nigeria. Bolanle is an excellent mentor.”

Bimbo Manuel also praised Austen-Peters for her intrepid spirit in charting a new course in the uncertain waters of Nigerian theatre. According to him, “There is a vision behind all of this that I admire – her commitment to developing people, to grooming people. It started with her letting people come here (Theatre@Terra) to perform for free. There’s the leadership she provides and the vision she brings; she is so infectious with her vision, her dreams you are compelled to buy into it. Saro is going to be better and bigger!”

Other sponsors with representatives present were Channels TV, EbonyLife TV, Nigerian Export Promotion Council, and MultiChoice, who all expressed support for the London show.

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