It was indeed the perfect theatrical performance for the imperfect, precarious economic times a not-so sterling leadership has plunged Nigerians. With a foreseeable end to recession not in sight, Ifeoma Fafunwa could not have chosen a better time to stage Love and Recession at MUSON Centre, Lagos days leading up to New year. Although the theme of the play is not so much about recession as it is about the intricacies of love, its laughter-inducing plot and an opening glee of well-choreographed vocalists rendering songs in classical music flourish, laced with admonitions urging Nigerians to patronise ‘made-in-Nigeria’ goods and products, situate the performance at the heart of a country desperately plunged into needless economic hardship.
(Women should make do with their natural hair or other locally sourced materials instead of the overpriced, imported Brazilian hair purchased with scarce foreign exchange earnings)
It was a call for patriotism, a commodity in scarce supply among Nigerians, who are cursed with the addiction and taste for foreign things, a people who disdain locally made products but bemoan soaring unemployment rates among the teeming young people, who are easily swayed into crimes and other vices. Perhaps, that was the masterstroke the director and her crew delivered, when she infused the currency of economic dilemma into an otherwise hilarious love story.
Also, the desperation of a farmer, Chief (Keppy Ekpenyong), who is eager to offload his 36 years old daughter, Aderonke (Omonor), to the nearest man, who comes asking for her hand in marriage as a smart way of cushioning the effects of recession (the least mouths there are to feed the better), makes for a performance thrill. The bravery also of a not-so young man, Elemude (Iponmwaosa Gold), who steps forward to take the plunge at marriage during hard times, when others are collapsing under the weight of economic crunch, seems a commendable move. But what manner of man is Elemude, who goes about challenging his would-be fiancée and her father right in their own home over a piece of landed property on the day he coms proposing? This comes as a rude shock, especially as the said young man is so timid and awkward he just cannot string the right words together to tell his intended his mission?
Aderonke has the slight reputation of a tomboy; she hunts and does other boyish things. Elemude knows this and he is intimidated by her direct approach to things. He does not know how to speak his heart directly to her. Voicing his desire to her father takes him forever. When he finally does, he is shocked the father takes it as welcome news. But he is scared Aderonke won’t be so enthusiastic about his proposal. To make matters worse, the father does not tell Ronke why Elemude is visiting; rather, he tells her someone has come to buy his ‘yams.’ Elemude goes about proposing to Ronke in roundabout manner, using the metaphor of the cockerel chasing a hen to make her understand his intention. They go on and on until the piece of cocoyam farm close to the river comes up and both lay vehement claims to it and nearly come to blows.
The father is called in to resolve the matter and he sides with his daughter against the suitor. They also nearly come to blows until Elemude is shoved out. But that is when the father tells Ronke about Elemude’s mission, saying how hopeless it would have been for him to give his daughter to a hopeless man like Elemude. Ronke learns the beautiful truth at last and she is distraught; she falls on her knees and begs her father to bring back Elemude so he could propose to her. She is tired of her spinsterhood status and is eager to be married off irrespective of the kind of man who has come forth. Her father is confused, but she literally pushes him out to fetch back her suitor. Her desperation is intense.
When he returns, another round of dispute over which of their dogs is a better hinter ensues until Chief grabs Elemude by the scruff of the neck and drops him hard on the floor; he faints away and Ronke is desperate that her father has killed her would-be husband. She orders him to get reviving salt and ice cream. She props Elemude against her bosom and rocks him. With the salt, poor Elemude is revived and the father acts quickly to save the precious moment and joins their hands in marriage right there in his sitting room, with him as the officiating priest and all! Chief then invites the audience to the wedding reception that takes place at the foyer of MUSON Centre, where palm wine, wine small chops and two dancers entertained the audience plus a raffle for gifts.
Since improvisation was the norm for Love and Recession, the production crew should have further extended the motif beyond what was shown. Chief is, by no means, a poor man, with his large yam ban visibly on display. So, his desire to see off his only daughter in a man’s house as wife, who is helping him out in his yam business, doesn’t arise. If Chief has many children and possibly many wives, (all depleting his resources faster than he makes them) then the urgency of wanting to marry off Ronke, and all the other girls and urging the boys to go fend for themselves, would have been all right. This is a possible drawback for the explosive title, Love and Recession. Indeed, that is when the recession theme would have come out strong and compelling.
Love and Recession spanned the entire New Year weekend and had a large audience in attendance. Another stage performance during the last festive weekend was His Said and She Said, also performed at Theatre Republic in Lekki, although it could not match the kind of sponsorship and resources Love and Recession had.
These two performances spiced up the festive season. Missing in action was the duo of Bolanle Austin-Peters and Uche Nwokedi, whose musical theatres has redefined and innovated the theatre landscape in Lagos. However, with Austin-Peters building her own theatre at Terra Kulture, theatre lovers can look forward to an expanded theatre space this year and the variety that comes with such diversity of performance platforms, as the premiere National Theatre still gropes in the dark.