Growing up in the extremely rural village of Ayetoro, Hakeem encounters many challenges of life. Life is not kind to him at all. The arrival of his childhood friend from Lagos, looking all clean cut and trim, successful leads to Hakeem ‘s resolve to also go to Lagos to seek his fortune, and ‘make it big’ in life. However, even more intriguing challenges awaits him in the city with its own culture and rhythm.
Hakeem’s exploits in Lagos is the core story of Lagos Na Wa, a workshop production originally created for the Guinness World Record attempt. It was one of the first performances to feature at the 2017 Lagos Theatre Festival, staged on March 1, 2017 at the MUSON Centre. It was designed to reflect the everyday hustle, bustle and struggle for survival in the city of Lagos. The system is rife with mischief, intrigues, treachery, and a mix of other oddities – all in a bid to survive at all cost.
In the village, Hakeem leads a careless and irresponsible life: he has impregnated five girls, owes debts even on petty needs such as recharge cards and noodles! His victims and creditors try to stop him from escaping thus leaving them to their fates, but he cunningly manipulates his way out.On reaching Lagos, he meets a higher level of treachery where his naivety is exploited and he is robbed of all his belongings, down to his pants! Obviously this was not the Lagos of Hakeem’s dreams. It is these experiences that lead to the birth of the ‘new Hakeem’, a survivalist, an exploiter of innocence, a syndicated swindler and scandalous fellow and thief. Here, too, his game catches up with him and he runs for dear life.
Performed by a largely amateurish cast, many of which had little or no professional theatre background, the play is a realistic portrayal of lighted Lagos life. Lagos Na Wa, by the way, is an expression of surprise, exasperation, resignation and submission, all of which reflect the overwhelming nature of stress in Lagos. The play argues that the difficulty in getting the basic needs of food, shelter and clothing is a combination of failure of governmental policies and lack of individual self-discipline. It specifically mentions that the Buhari administration’s policies launched Nigeria into recession; and highlights systemic failures in key sectors like power, environment, etc. In another tone, it highlights the erosion of human values and dignity of labour as they become sacrificed on the altar of selfishness.
The production style is largely eclectic, employing popular hit songs to deepen the message of the play. This helps the audience connect with the story since these songs are quite familiar to the general public. The players, too, created some songs and chants, using metaphors that reflect contents of the popular songs. Generally, the directing and artistic vision of the production is good and to a large extent delivers the message of the play.
However, there are areas of the performance that could have benefitted from quality directorial touch, thus contributing to making it a success. First is the language. The language of a play must convey message and at the same time set the mood and tone. The choice of words and delivery of same should enhance the performance, especially help in understanding of the message. The language of “Lagos Na Wa” is not standard English, but ‘Nigerian English’, laced profusely with pidgin and vernacular (Yoruba). This means that the play is for a specific audience, the Yoruba audience particularly since non-speakers of Yoruba would not understand the ‘vernacular’ bits. Simple standard English would have effectively serve the purpose of communicating the message clearly.
Again, for most of the actors, perhaps as amateurs, delivery was not as powerful as should be for a performance created to set a world record. Modulation, articulation and enunciation are key to effective delivery. Here, the problem seems largely to be the casual approach given this aspect by the actors; all players must hold onto their concentration ability and stay focused till the end of the play.
Costuming in the play, too, could have been better. The players came out in everyday regular cloths in a bid to showcase the ordinary status of the characters. However, for professional theatre, costumes must be deliberately designed for a particular performance to enhance the story and message. It could be a simple uniform apparel for every player, but it must by all means be deliberately designed. For “Lagos Na Wa” specifically, grey colour top over simple jeans trousers, or the same thing but using traditional Nigerian fabric could suffice. The choice of grey colour is such as portraying the rustic and rugged life, or if you like, decayed life of the Lagos survivalist.
The adoption of music as an integral part of the style of the production is commendable. However, where music is not successful, it subtracts from the overall performance. The songs adopted were not completely successful in execution. The singers had good voices individually but the ensemble suffered tonal blend, wrong keys and lack of proper ‘attack.’ A powerful song rendition holds the audience’s’ attention and deepens the message; anything other than this becomes a distraction and an unnecessary addition. The instrumentation as well was casual. There should be more thorough rehearsal in this regard to achieve a terrific gestalt.
In conclusion, the play Lagos Na Wa can be said to be a successful performance on the strength of its story and message. Individual brilliance of actors should be spotlighted, and technical details in some aspects of the production must be given adequate attention for the production to attain its maximum potential.
Ukuma is a participant in the ongoing Young Critics workshop organised by the International Association of Theatre Critics and British Council Nigeria in partnership with The Guardian as part of 2017 Lagos Theatre Festival