Monday, February 15, 2010

In Ireke Onibudo, beasts batter Toyin Osinaike‘s heart. Then, he finds love

In Ireke Onibudo, beasts batter Toyin Osinaike‘s heart. Then, he finds love


For any dramatist to do justice to any of D. O. Fagunwa‘s novels, he or she must be able to make the impossible happen on the stage. The reason is that Fagunwa‘s literary world is largely that of magical and supernatural realism. The dramatist should be able to make wild animals appear and talk on the stage. He must be able to present believable encounters between the living and the dead and, indeed, take the audience to a realm that is only a stone‘s throw to the backyard of God.

In Ireke Onibudo: The Fabulous Adventures of a Sugarcane Man, an adaptation of Fagunwa‘s Ireke Onibudo, which will be on the stage from November 7 at the National Theatre, Lagos, the audience is due for such pleasant shocks. In the play written by celebrated dramatist, Prof. Femi Osofisan, coming on the platform of the Chams Theatre Series, an initiative of Chams Plc, geared towards reviving live theatre in Nigeria, the playwright has not only done both Fagunwa and the sponsoring company a great service, he has also re-invented himself as a force to reckon with in inter-textual writing. 

As Chams did last year when Ogboju Ode ninu Igbo Irumole was staged, it has produced both the English and Yoruba versions of Ireke Onibudo. The Yoruba adaptation is written by seasoned writer and actor, Prof. Akinwumi Isola, while it is being directed by lecturer and actor, Kola Oyewo. Again, both playwrights worked independent of each other, an experiment that has produced two independent plays from the same novel whose hero, Ireke, narrates to his long-lost friend Akintunde Beyioku, the story of a most turbulent but interesting life he has lived.

The defamiliarisation is, of course, further radicalised by the director, Tunde Awosanmi, who is steadily establishing himself as a force to reckon with in the industry. The obviously fluid professional communication between him and Osofisan makes the play a must-watch. This is apart from the fact that the producers have been able to rally into the cast thoroughbred actors such as Toyin Osinaike (co-acting Ireke with Kunle Agboola); Albert Akaeze (Tiger) and Charles Ihimodu, who brillantly plays the role of the king of Alupayida. Also in the cast are multi-talented hands such as Ropo Ewenla, Ify Agwu and Jude Udeni who, like some other characters, effortlessly switch roles to capture Ireke‘s galloping narration of his past life.

In the play, the hero, who sets out as a common man - unlike the hero of Ogboju Ode who is a powerful hunter - is in search of succour and meaning to life. Offspring of a man that foolishly falls from grass to grace, Ireke finds himself in a world where wild animals have to dictate the pace of his breath. Today he is in battle with Ologbo Ijakadi, the wild cat. Tomorrow, he is on the lap of Arogidigba, the queen of all fish who loses her tender temper when the adventurer refuses to marry her. 

But while remaining faithful to Fagunwa in terms of structure and overall theme, Osofisan puffs rebellion onto the face of the audience in terms of stories he invents into some of the ‘episodes‘ that make up the long flashback that Ireke Onibudo is. 

Like many other Osofisan‘s plays, Ireke makes use of traditional songs, dance and even poetry. There is, for instance, an exchange of love poems between Ireke and Ifepade, just as some verses of Ekun Iyawo that Ifepade chants to bid her parents farewell will remind the audience of the Yoruba bridal poetry of old. 

To add to the beauty of the play, the director may, however, have to shorten it a little to completely sustain the audience‘s attention. 

Grammarians will also prefer “My attendants and I must leave at this point” to “I and my attendant...” (as said by Ireke’s resurrected mother) just as Tiger must remember that the last syllable in the word ‘coward‘ should be pronounced as ‘ward‘ (of a hospital) and not ‘wad‘ (as in a wad of money). One other thing, when Ireke and his friend, Beyioku, sit among the audience to watch the drama of his past life on the stage, it may be better if they sit at one side of the hall, so that the people sitting behind then would not miss their (actors‘) countenances.

On the whole, however, the play is a remarkable experience that will win many back to the stage. Beyond fulfilling the CSR tradition, the Chams‘ initiative has shed light on how the corporate sector can help to revive the art industry. 

Osofisan captures this when he says, ”With this project, Chams is able to stir up a revival of interest in the works of a cultural icon, Daniel Fagunwa. But also significantly, Chams is able to employ over a 100 theatre artistes for about three months a year. For these, all those who relish this form of social and cultural entertainment must remain eternally grateful to the company.”

And the remarks made by Chams’ Managing Director, Mr. Demola Aladekomo, at the preview of the play held at the University of Ibadan, indicates that the organisation is also enjoying itself as far as the sponsorship is concerned. ”We are glad to restate that the Chams Theatre Series is a strategic intervention and contribution of Chams Plc to the rejuvenation of the arts and stage culture in Nigeria. It is also a means of promoting our culture and re-orientating Nigerians to the values that we hold dear. We believe those values should propel action in our society,” Aladekomo notes.

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