July 19, 2024

Writing ‘The Re-Education of Gina Obi’

  • June 16, 2024
  • 4 min read
Writing ‘The Re-Education of Gina Obi’

By James Henshaw Jnr

AS a former lecturer, it was quite easy to write the play The Re-Education of Gina Obi. I didn’t have to do much research. Since the play was based in an educational setting, I just had to dig into my reserves of experience in the classroom. But it was still such a different ordeal though from my previous writing. The maxim that writers need to find themselves within an environment where they can express themselves authentically is all so true. The characters and the scenarios in this play were in my face, all around me, bombarding me with their stories.

I had just returned to Nigeria, having lived most of my life out of the country. Being on the ground was a breath of fresh air to me – a new lease of life for my writing. With my creativity in the cooler for decades in the United Kingdom, with attempts at navigating out of the doldrums proving futile, here in this mad country, I could literally pluck ideas out of thin air. I was recharged; I could feel the blood flowing back in my veins.

I kept recalling a play I had watched way back in my student days, Educating Rita by Willy Russel. The theme, ambitious lowly working-class girl and a patronising upper-class man, has been making the rounds for ages: George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion and My Fair Lady the musical. I could see instinctively how it could be transposed to the terrain in Nigeria. But in this case, it wouldn’t just be about two people seeking an identity. The play had to capture the broad sweep of what it means to exist in a tumultuous country like Nigeria

With the eye of an ‘outsider’, one tends to see and notice things in ways people of the soil do not or have lived with for so long they have become immune to them. There was a lot, and I mean a lot. Nigeria is not just a pot of energy; it is a swirl with tensions pulling in all directions. This makes life exciting, but at the same time dangerous, in fact too dangerous at times for comfort. The scramble to survive forces extremes of human behaviour. Nothing is good or bad. It just depends on which position on the stage one is viewing the action.

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Dr. James Henshaw Jnr

As an African writer, one cannot just write for fun, I think. We have an added responsibility that writers in Western cultures don’t necessarily have to bear. We must point the touch into the dark recesses of our society – one that does not reward on merit but rather on who you know; the wilful, and criminal, neglect of young people, and as it relates to Gina, one that sees a woman’s body as her sole asset.

Comedy helps to get messages across in a palatable form, but this play is very serious in the themes it handles. When Ita, the lecturer, tries in vain to explain to Gina the concept of tragedy in drama, Gina articulates the concept in one simple, but ingenious question: “Sir, is Nigeria a tragedy?”

Within three weeks, I had completed the play, and it didn’t really need any serious re-writes. My concern though was how Nigerians would take to a play where only two characters sit around a desk chatting all the way through. I didn’t have to worry. At the first reading, all those present had much more to argue about than I could possibly have fitted into the play.

A rehearsed reading of The Re-Education of Gina Obi will be held online (https://rb/wc6ndo) on June 23, 2024 @6:00pm.

* Henshaw Jnr founded James Ene Henshaw Foundation in memory of his playwright father, a pioneer of African drama, aimed at nurturing new playwrights

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