Friday, January 2, 2009

Kurunmi - a Play in Season of Cholera

Kurunmi - a Play in Season of Cholera
McPhilips Nwachukwu
25 December 2008

Currently showing at the National Theatre of Nigeria, Lagos is one of late Professor Ola Rotimi's most important plays, Kurunmi. The play, which was written about 1966 as a dramatic response to the tragic 30 months civil war between Nigeria and secessionist Biafran republic was historically first brought on stage in 1969 with famous scientist, Dr. Akin Sofoluwe playing Kurumni.Coming on stage again , 49 years after its first stage performance under the directorship of frontline theatre artist, playwright and culture pathologist, Ben Tomoloju, the 45 member cast historical drama is being re-interpreted to fit into the light of contemporary experiences.

Originally scripted to dramatically explore the internecine conflict between the Ijaye and their Ibadan cousins of Old Oyo empire, the playwright, Rotimi using the characters of Kurumni and Alaafin of Oyo explores the absolute corrupt tendencies of power.
Fortuitously, Rotomi's Kurumni has enjoyed the hindsight of history as it came in to sphere at a moment the Chinese describe as " interesting times" interesting in the sense that it appears when the debate of secession was hot: when the Biafran side led by the Igbo of Eastern Nigeria wanted to break away from the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

Each time the play has come on stage, it has succeeded in playing out the whole intrigues epitomized in the leading figure of Aare Kakanfo; the War General, Kurunmi, who represents the conservative stock of power players in governance, the sit tight attitude epitomized in the person of Alafin of Oyo, who wishes to succeed himself in power with the installation of his son contrary to cultural dictates( constitutional provisions), and the betrayal of brotherhood and trust displayed by the Egbas.

Coming out this time again, as the last play offering to conclude the National Theatre/ National Troupe of Nigeria 2008 play season, Kurunmi , also plays into the hands of history as the nation has just witnessed another blood birth in the once upon a time peaceful city of Plateau State in the North Central part of Nigeria.

The Jos crises , which unconfirmed sources put its death toll at 400 is said to have been caused by a clash between indigenous people and the Hausa- Fulani settlers, over perhaps, who is to control the power apparatus of the place.

While the crises in the Plateau may not directly be about succession, it however directly speaks on the corruptive tendencies of absolute power display. As people troop to the theatre this season to watch this well crafted and properly interpreted drama, there is no doubt, that they will be drawn into the cathartic influence effusing fresh from the sad and injured history of the nation's deformed polity.

Realizing Rotimi's dramatic vision on stage is not a simple task. For instance , his use of large cast, a phenomenon that was frontally queried by such critics like Uli Beier was a task before any director engaged with the task of directing Rotimi's plays.

But beautifully, Tomoloju, the director of the present show has scored well in this area like in other areas of the theatrical production by trimming the large cast to sizeable crowd of 45 players. According to him; " We know the mind of the master."
Beside good management of cast, the entire packaging of the show captures the dramatic vision of the late playwright, who had always envisioned a complete African dramatic sensibilities in his dramaturgy.

The play is richly endowed with a total African theatrical aesthetics that manifest in the form of beautifully arranged music, costumes and linguistic power.

In the present show, Kurunmi is being played by well known actor, Wale Macaulay, who stars on stage along side other tested actors that include: Philip Okolo, Albert Akaeze, Ropo Ewenla, Victor Oyadeji, Hadji Bello and Dokubo.

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