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Yoruba Romance ' A fight against tribal biases

Published by Guardian on Fri, 10 May 2013

RELIGIOUS bigotry, stereotypes, intolerance, ethnocentrism and their vices, which are some of the problems bedeviling the existence of Nigeria as a nation, were brought to the front burner of live theatre for enthusiasts to savour in the stage play Yoruba Romance.Written by Tyrone Terrence and directed by Williams Benson, the play, which was staged at Terra Kulture, Lagos was produced by Quebic4Productions in collaboration with Theatre at Terra Kulture, an offshoot of Terra Kulture organisation.Adapted from A Marriage Proposal, a 17th century play by the Russian playwright, Anton Chekhov, Yoruba Romance is a hilarious comedy that dispels deep-seated prejudices about intertribal relations in Nigeria.Centred on Ladoja (Omololu Sodiya), Chief Chibuzor (Chris Ubani Robert) and Nneka (Uduak Akrah Egom), the play tells the story of how Ladoja, an affluent 49-year old farmer, makes up his mind to marry Nneka, Chief Chibuzor's daughter. Ladoja expresses his intent to Chibuzor, who is not only his neighbour, but has a long outstanding quarrel with his family.Chibuzor, a rich Igbo businessman, has been living with his 36-year old daughter, as a single parent since the demise of his wife. However, Ladoja's desire brings back his joy, as his mien changes; and not bothering about their differences, he arranges for the two to meet in his house.Ladoja, lacking the tact to pass on his intent to Nneka, begins to allude to his family wealth and escapade, thereby unearthing a long-buried land dispute matter between the two families. This rekindles old wounds that makes Chibuzor and his daughter to chase the lover boy away from their house.When Ladoja leaves, Chibuzor then let Nneka in on Ladoja's visit. Thinking that it would infuriate his daughter, Nneka, without mincing words, asks her father to go fetch Ladoja for her, saying since her mother passed away no man had approached her for marriage, especially as she was getting no younger. She accuses her father of finding fault with all the suitors she had brought home, saying he would either reject them on religious grounds, ethnic biases or cultural difference.Nneka, recounting how she lost several eligible suitors as a result of her father's prejudices, insists that her father should fetch Ladoja. Surprised at Nneka's sudden fondness for a Yoruba man, a fondness he describes as Yoruba romance, Chibuzor, in spite of the evening rain, goest after Ladoja to pacify his daughter and only child.The two, Ladoja and Nneka, fearing that if they did not overlook their family and tribal differences might end up living the rest of their lives without marrying, as both are already advanced in age. They shun all obstacles to be one in matrimony.The storyline reflects the true Nigerian story with the characters seamlessly delivering their roles. But going by the geographical representation of the country, Benson could be accused of bias, as the characters that feature in the play are of the Igbo and the Yoruba tribes. Knowing the tripodal politics of the country, a character should have played the Hausa role instead of a mere mention of the tribe in passing. This neglect, to any observer, especially a foreigner, gives the impression that the various ills highlighted are common between the two tribes featured in the play.Apart from that the play teaches that for the country to forge ahead as a nation, the various tribes must learn to tolerate one another, as not one ethnic group can be said to be flawless. It also urges the need to rise up to patriotic duties and for all to stop judging others from individual cultural affinity.WHILE tasking the director on some of the challenges facing theatre practice in the country, Benson attributed it to lack of space, sponsorship and funding, noting, 'We lack the space, venues and hall to present our plays; but of late Terra Kulture has been very supportive by providing the venue for plays to hold every month.'While commenting on the National Theatre as a space that is not living up to its expectations, Benson noted, 'If you look at the National Theatre, you will discover that not most of us can afford the space. Secondly, it is not conducive for most of our audience. When you invite someone to come there for a show, the first thing that comes to mind are the hoodlums that hang around the entrances. Though all that is being taken care of now, we still don't know what is going on there with regards to the quality of the facilities. But then, we are looking into going to the MUSON Centre, which is quite expensive for the upcoming producers to keep live theatre going.'On the issues of sponsorship, he said, 'No, it not exactly so, because some of sponsors just want to buy into the programme by just doing their banner, sharing their fliers at the venue and they don't want to have any other thing do with the production. On our own side, the time we go to them matters the most. If the time of asking for sponsorship is too short, they will not listen to you because the approval of fund goes through processes; so, it requires planning. The challenges you see are the ones that border on the time frame, the venue for our production, sponsorship and having the right cast.'If getting funding for production is so much of a trouble, why not cut cost and make use of guerilla theatre to which Benson added, 'Well, Guerilla theatre is good, but the truth about it is that Nigeria is not ready for such. Back in the UK, you will see the theatre in the streets. You will also find people come around them to drop money as a way of appreciating what they are doing. But we know what that would be when we say let's go to Ajegunle to perform. It is not just cordoning the whole area, but will the people support us by putting what they could''Everybody is struggling to survive and we all live barely below $3 a day. I am not saying it won't work, but the efforts, the process and security that go with it matters'.What then is the future of stage performance' 'The future of theatre will stand if we keep on pushing it, showing integrity and are constant with our production,' he stated. 'Taking live theatre to the street may keep the theatre active, but the question is: will we get the right audience to pay for it' 'I am not sure about that and until we get that right, street theatre remains a mirage. No matter how you do it, you must pay the actors because none of them will be willing to let go their pay.
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