In Ayetoro, a sleepy rural settlement somewhere in Abeokuta, a young man with hunger in his soul, and fire in his loins prepares for the near inescapable rite of passage that millions around the country have made before him. He’s packed his bags, said his goodbyes, hugged his mama. He’s leaving home. Headed straight for Lagos.
This is the premise for Lagos Na Wa, a production by the theatre group, Team Nigeria, staged Wednesday, 1, March at the Muson Centre, Onikan as part of activities celebrating the week long Lagos Theatre Festival.
Comprising a cast of young, amateur performers, many of whom have had no prior experience on the stage, Team Nigeria, marshalled by its creative director, Olafemi George, made up for the shortage of technical expertise with a boisterous energetic performance involving, drama, comedy, song and dance.
The streets of Lagos are overflowing with stories of love, hard luck, loss and resilience and it is in these streets that Team Nigeria retreats to uncover a story of Lagos that is easily recognisable and relatable to anyone who ever spent five minutes in the big city.
Prior to leaving Ayetoro, the protagonist Akeem, revealed to be a feckless, rolling stone gets some resistance from some of the women he’s loved and some of the men who have him ranking high on their debtors list. This extended segment relies perhaps overly on pop tunes by contemporary artistes such as Wizkid and Olamide to transfuse the otherwise anaemic writing.
Where the tunes are easily recognisable and instantly demand some feel good, sing along vibe, they also fail to conceal the false premise for setting some of them up. Instead of paying service to the story or the play’s structure, it feels the other way round, like the narrative was constructed around the songs. Thus when a character asks his mum to pray for him, the audience can guess that Darey’s Pray For Me ditty is about to come on anytime soon. Sure enough it does.
Akeem eventually leaves his demons behind and makes it to Lagos, city of blinding lights and outsize dreams. One that takes just as much as it gives, maybe even more so. What follows is a fish out of water dramatization seen in hundreds of productions before, in which Akeem is systematically stripped of his innocence and in a bid for survival, is swallowed up whole by the carnivorous city.
As Lagos Na Wa moves into the second half, it ditches the pop songs and focuses on the theatrics. The actors while lacking technical polish give off the kind of raw, energetic performance that manages to feel both spontaneous and believable at the same time. The stage isn’t the biggest one to ever host a play, but the performers make effective use of what is available to them, moving and fumbling from one end to the other as the action segues from one inner street to the other.
Costuming and set design could have been more expressive, immersive even, but the obviously budget challenged production makes a valid case for the use of realism in expressing the mood of life on the street. Thus while the costumes and colours fail to pop and grab attention, they reflect the rugged nature of street living.
Lagos Na Wa is a tiny part of Team Nigeria’s ambitious bid to set the Guinness World Record for the longest, uninterrupted theatre production. Ultimately, this show, for all its good intentions, merely plays like a sketch rehearsal for this bigger picture event.