Lala Akindoju may have just turned 32, but as far as contemporary Nigerian theatre is concerned, she may have already achieved veteran status. Since making her stage debut as an actress in 2005, Akindoju has been a vital part of the theatre experience, in Lagos and nationwide. She has been active both on stage, starring in hundreds of productions and behind, as a producer and founder of her own Make It Happen productions.
So it makes sense that as the Lagos Theatre Festival, Nigeria’s biggest theatre celebration, enters its sixth year, and first as an independent local entity- albeit with strong support from the British Council- Akindoju would return to Freedom Park, this time with her directorial debut titled Lavender, playing as a fringe selection.
Written by Ademola Soares, Lavender is a contemporary comedy of errors, and a surprisingly potent vehicle for tackling weighty themes such as infertility, pregnancy, surrogacy and infidelity, especially as they concern married couples.
Light without being silly and serious without tilting towards tedium, Lavender centers the couple Rebecca (Kehinde Bankole, dependable as always) and Frank (Deyemi Okanlawon, tough yet vulnerable), two high flying professionals who have everything they want except a baby to call theirs. Medical consultations reveal that they are unable to conceive via natural means. A dependent friend of Rebecca’s Yemisi (Oludara Egerton-Shyngle) offers to play the role of surrogate for the couple and the play takes the opportunity of Yemisi’s decision to observe human behavior in unusual situations.
There is a treasure trove of material to be mined from the situation and Lavender makes an attempt to at least stay abreast of the issues that may arise in a complicated situation such as this. But how to display all of this within the running time allowed for productions at the festival?
Lavender rises to the occasion of exploring the challenges of infertility and the surrogacy experience, but also the dynamics between an equally matched couple. The writing falters when it comes to the much more interesting power dynamic between Rebecca and the much put upon Yemisi but the energy manages to carry the story ahead where it could have sunk.
The writing is punchy and a little more than basic and the four actors (including Rita Edward as an overbearing mother-in-law) who make up the cast are sufficiently well versed with the material.
Trouble ensues when in order to keep up appearances, Rebecca has to relocate to the United Kingdom for the duration of the “pregnancy,’’ leaving Frank back in Nigeria to look after the heavily pregnant surrogate. Frank and Yemisi get more than what the bargain for when they are forced to deal not only with the physical and emotional toll of the pregnancy on Yemisi, but also with Frank’s meddlesome mother and the creepy matter of their growing mutual affection for each other.
All of these turn out to be small fry when the baby arrives and long buried tensions come to the surface in an explosive, dramatic climax that is quite rushed but no less satisfying. Akindoju has been around the stage too long to fall into freshman troubles and her direction is confident, even as she displays a comfortable rapport with the actors. Stage design is understandably minimalistic but functional and use of music does not quite blend in as smoothly.
Safe without being redundant, Lavender’s biggest win is that it entertains supremely without falling into the trap of preaching or forced social commentary even when it does a little of both. Akindoju proves herself a triple threat and makes it clear that as far as theatre is concerned, there is little she cannot do. To her credit, Lavender presents a rollicking good time even when its own agenda is clearly visible.