Sunday, January 11, 2009

Who is afraid of Wale Macaulay as Kurunmi? By Mufu Onifade

Who is afraid of Wale Macaulay as Kurunmi?
By Mufu Onifade

WHO is afraid of Wale Macaulay? The rave of the moment as the year 2008 bade farewell on Wednesday was the 5-star command performance by the National Troupe of Nigeria. It was a stage show of Kurunmi, a tragic play written by the late professor Ola Rotimi and directed by the ever-current and consistent Ben Tomoloju. It was a show that re-polished professional image of the National Troupe. Kurunmi was outstanding in every department: acting, dancing, music and miming. The usual Tomoloju magic wand struck a positive lightening in all, and the cobweb was woven around an exhaustively outstanding actor, Wale Macaulay.

Who is afraid of Wale Macaulay? Kurunmi is a story of absolute power that intoxicates absolutely, deposited in a generalissimo. It is a story of high-powered politicking. It is a story of deviance with the intent of upholding the tradition against common sense. It is a story of intrigues and strategy, filled with suspense and awe-inspiring drama. It is a story that forcefully enforces a change and further compels the resisting force to kiss the dust by force. In the end, Kurunmi, the all-powerful generalissimo of the entire Yoruba race is turned into a lifeless effigy whose emotional and spiritual well-being become permanently retarded. It is a story that forcefully steals away the existing peace from Ijaye in order to embrace the change of an age-long tradition in Oyo. The story is well told on stage, but who is afraid of Wale Macaulay?
All actors, drummers, dancers and singers in the play can easily enjoy a genuine display of thumb-up, for a job well-executed, but Wale Macaulay's role, his apt interpretation of the Kurunmi character, his energetic resistance to pressure and his proven ability as a theatre rat whose professional career began on stage must be placed on a pedestal of high praises. His gait, his gauntlet, his diction, his audibility, his carriage, his charisma and natural smoothness on stage could not but exhume the reputation of the National Troupe from its state of oscillation between known professionalism and strange mediocrity.

Unfortunately, Professor Ahmed Yerima, the director-general of the National Theatre/National Troupe of Nigeria was conspicuously absent from the command performance staged on Sunday, December 28, 2008 at the Cinema Hall 2 of the National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos. He missed a rare show of great potential and redefined professionalism woven by Ben Tomoloju and delivered by Wale Macaulay. Yerima missed the visible difference between the traditional interpretation of Kurunmi invented by the late Laide Adewale and the new breed of fresh invention, Wale Macaulay. He missed the opportunity of receiving all those notable chiefs who came to grace the show all the way from Ijaye, Egba and Abeokuta. So was his assistant, Arnold Udoka but as the parlance in the theatre is often echoed: the show must go on, and on it went; and successfully, too. The lead actor miraculously dumped his audience into a deep trench of emotion, but who is afraid of Wale Macaulay?

There is no denying the fact that every actor on stage, Phillip Okolo, Osagie Oyedigun, Ropo Ewenla, Soibifa Dokubo, Yemi Adeyemi, Kehinde Fasuyi, Lola Kazeem, Awele Onuora and a host of others performed excellently to compliment Macaulay's role. However, the London-trained actor's eventual 5-star performance did not easily emerge on the dining table like bread and butter. There were plots, underground power play and secretive manipulation to un-robe him of the role. Who was afraid of Wale Macaulay? Who was afraid of his artistic mien and characteristic domination on stage? Who was afraid of his possible stage interpretation of any role by this screen mini-god? Prior to the play, the Kurunmi camp was divided into two. On one side was the popular Abe Igi caucus who saw the role of Kurunmi as the birthright of the caucus. With a wide consultation within, the caucus had presented a credible candidate that was perceived powerful enough to upstage Wale Macaulay. The other camp comprised those passive individuals who cared less about who played what role. To them, anybody could play Kurunmi as long as he was capable of delivering the goods. In the middle of the two groups was the arbiter, the director of the play, Ben Tomoloju who was bent on presenting a cosmopolitan Kurunmi which Macaulay represents. Apart from being a respected playwright, Ben is also an accomplished director, songwriter, singer and many more. In truth, he is not a push-over in directing. He has handled many classics in the past and had just risen from directing one of his plays, Jankariwo whose performances ended recently in controversy, to take up Kurunmi. The controversy had nothing to do with the artistic management of the play, and so, Tomoloju was easily absolved.

In Kurunmi, he was not ready to yield to any pressure to dump one actor for another. He would rather follow his heart, which told him to depart from the deep-rooted local rendition of the past to embrace the current wind of change. As a matter of fact, he acted as if he was unaware of the existence of the two camps. Of the lots, however, only Wale Macaulay fitted in, perfectly for Tomoloju's radical approach to modern day theatre directing. First, Tomoloju, who belonged to a gradually fading generation proved that he was different. He is certainly a director in embrace of constant research, and that informed his current vision and recurrent adaptation to modern tendencies in theatre performance. In the end, in spite of the plots to unseat him, Wale Macaulay who claims to have shed tears the first time he read the play, succeeded in translating his director's vision into the audience's delight, but the question still rages: who is afraid of Wale Macaulay?

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