By Kelechi Agoha
THE sexless nature of the Nigerian currency, the naira, which creates a bipolar relationship between the haves and the have-nots, and the young and the old in society was the subject of a play staged to commemorate the 25th and 26th convocation ceremony of the University of Abuja held on Thursday, February 24, 2022 at the Faculty of Arts Auditorium. The epoch-making theatre show saw the performance of Olu Obafemi’s iconic play Naira Has No Gender. It was directed by Dr. Roseline Yacim, who, along with her cast and crew, put up a total theatre performance that highlighted the various elements of African performance woven into an ensemble of artistic spectacle. The performance was a matinee that started at exactly 4.16pm with the arrival of the Vice-Chancellor of the University, Prof. Abdul-Rasheed Na’Allah, and it ended at about 5:34pm.
Naira Has No Gender is a snapshot of the crassness in society that has created a generational divide between the old and the new, the bourgeois and the proletariat; it also highlights the problems of traditional culture and modernization. Set in a contemporary society, the play revolves around two lovers: Aina and Otunla who find it difficult to have a proper wedding due to financial constraints. They somehow manage to cut through cultural barriers to achieve their dream of having a modest wedding. Aina’s stoic disposition to Otunla’s sexual advances at the beginning of the play sets the tone and mood that give the audience the sensory imagery of oppression and exploitation of the disadvantaged by the dominant few, and to a more definitive purpose for the young lovers.
At first, Aina calls Otunla a “clever cheat” who wants to take advantage of her helplessness to rob her “defenceless back”, but later she refers to him as the fountain of her fertility that must strive against all odds to achieve his dreams. That strong desire to achieve their dream of one indivisible family situates the play’s motif. Using the metaphors of love and marriage, the play also addresses more critical issues of national concern, such as corruption, oppression, political rascality and brigandage, election malpractices, poverty, unemployment, and class struggle. It also treats ethical issues of honour, chastity, respect for one and the other, trust, integrity and honesty.
Staging the play has come at a most auspicious time when youths are still at a crossroad and find themselves in a dilemma of making a choice. Aina, Otunla, Dokun and Derby represent the new generation of youths who oftentimes are disadvantaged, but are driven by their ambition, courage, and determination to break through the barriers of the old order to create a new one. However, through the character of Chief Awadanu, the old generation is depicted as corrupt, reckless, and myopic to the existential realities of the new generation. The disparity between these two generations is highlighted by Dotun who warns and accuses his father Chief Awadanu that “you cannot continue to call Otunla and the others who bring light to the darkness that you and the rest impose on this land.”
Naira Has No Gender is aesthetically well realised to bring both the artistic and technical elements of the production to a crescendo. The directorial concept is hinged on creating a counterpoint for a blend of the various elements of production to create aesthetic harmony. The director, Yacim, achieved this through the use of colours, choice of costume, makeup, set design, lighting, sound and the smooth transitions between the actors on stage and the orchestra. The adoption of simultaneous staging created fluidity of sequence and dramatic actions. Credit goes to the actors for carrying on the tempo of the play from the beginning to the end, through improvisations and well executed stage business that covered up for some poor line delivery. The characters of Aina and Otunla appeared convincing in their act, carriage and movement, and both maintained a chemistry that climaxed with the delivery of the play’s motif. However, the shrill voice of Otunla on a few occasions inhibited the projection of his lines, resulting in his inability to communicate audibly. This put a dent to a near-perfect performance. But what he lacked in his speech control, he made up with his movements on stage. Relatively, Chief Awadanu’s disposition failed to depict the ostensible character of an influential, wealthy and corrupt Nigerian. He relied more on his dialogue to communicate his character trait.
Basic elements of the production played significant roles in the outcome of the performance. The choice of costume and their colours conveyed the mood, time, status, and age of the characters in the play. It also drew the audience’s awareness to the director’s concept which was to create harmony through the blend of the traditional and western. Makeup was moderately done to enhance the actors’ communication, especially Aina’s parents. Props played a key role in enhancing the actors’ stage business while also engaging the audience with the unspoken. For instance, the love frame used as a unifying metaphor in Chief Awadanu’s living room reveals the central theme of the play, which is love.
Naira Has No Gender is a symbolic play that requires certain effects to project the inherent symbolisms. Like in the first scene at the riverside, the expressive use of specific sound effects to create the ambience of a typical riverside would have been used to cushion the lack of extensive scenery. However, this was barely noticeable. In other instances, the use of effects like car horns and knocks on the door to indicate an arrival heightened the intrigues and suspense of the dramatic actions. Colour is another aspect that the set designer used to project the tussle between the two generations as well as the traditional and western cultures. The blend of white and orange colours shows the enthusiasm of the emerging youths setting out to eclipse the old generation. These colours also revealed the excitement and optimism that characterised the effervescent nature of Aina and Otunla.
In the scene of Baba and Mama, the use of brown colour to depict the rustic life of the traditional society was effective. The highlight of the performance was the expressive use of songs to create the necessary mood for each scene. The songs were a medley of African and Western classics carefully scored by the orchestra to convey the essence of the play, and the combination of the vocal and the percussion instruments created a symphony that carried the audience along in the performance process. The songs were the live wire that held the production to its crescendo.
The performance was, without doubt, a good piece that tickled the convivial spirit of the audience who watched the show with rapt attention. Aside the few noticeable flaws, the performance drove home a significant point: urgency for the youths to take their destiny in their own hands and be the change they want to see. This is because modern day realities confronting the youths are enormous and require proactive engagements in surmounting them.
- * Agoha is a Doctoral Candidate of Dramatic Arts at Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Anambra State