A scene from the play
There is no definitive narrative that can capture the experience of living in Lagos, but stories can be woven around specific patterns and tropes. Lagos Na Wa is premised on one of such: the story of the Lagos JJC (Johnny Just Come).
This is a comedy of errors with a charm that makes it look like a performance thrown together casually.
Hakeem, a young man from Ayetoro, Ogun State, leaves his hometown for the big city. The opening act is about his departure: tearful goodbyes, and confrontation from folks he had impregnated and owed monies.
The emotions of the act are interpreted to the audience via a chorus that swarms and stomps and sings in unison; closing in and opening out in fluid sequences. The chorus members’ costumes suggest it is a crowd watching the departure on the side of the street and interjecting it with their commentary. Many have wrappers hanged around their necks and tied around their chests, a sight typical of languid mornings in small towns and villages of southwest Nigeria.
The ballads of the opening act are mostly by contemporary Nigerian artists — Timi Dakolo, Wizkid, Olamide, among others — ending with Pray For Me by Darey (featuring The Soweto Gospel Choir). The harmony of that song is, however, butchered by the ensemble in a performance that looks true to what might happen on the street. One is left to wonder how different the energy of the performance would have been if the haphazardness of the costumes and mise en scène was undergirded by vocal perfection.
Hakeem leaves Ayetoro after escaping the mob that wants to punish him for his infidelities, but enters Lagos and falls into the hands of another ‘mob’ ready to swindle him down to the boxer shorts that cover his naive butt. Language is an important part of this play, and as the characters switch from the Yoruba and English words of the town to the pidgin and slangs of Lagos, one could appreciate how the lack of proper vocabulary can betray ignorance in a city that punishes it.
Hakeem doesn’t stay naive for long. He teams up with a friend who rescues him from committing suicide and together they swindle residents of the city in a scheme that is a metaphor for that character of Lagos that turns landlords into graffiti artists, painting “This house is not for sale” on their fences. Hakeem falls into the hands of an angry mob and his end, left open to interpretation, is well known to anyone who is familiar with the Lagos rules of engagement.
Lagos Na Wa is intended as part of the 150 plays that will be performed on March 27 by the troupe simply identified as Team Nigeria in its attempt to enter the Guinness Book of Records for the longest performance ever. The perfromance, however, looks in many parts like a rehearsal. In espite of its colourful scenes, it would be a lot more better if the rhythms of the performance were tightened.
• Ifeoluwa Nihinlola is a participant in the ongoing Young Critics workshop organised by the International Association of Theatre Critics and British Council Nigeria as part of 2017 Lagos Theatre Festival