For those of us familiar with the amazing theatre of the Crown Troupe of Africa, watching a dance drama adaptation of Joy Isi Bewaji’s Eko Dialogue is like chugging one’s reality in one large gulp. Nothing prepares you for this experience. Not even seeing an earlier version five years ago.
Eko Dialogue, an effectual slim book chronicling Lagos in a burst of vignettes, was perhaps written unconsciously for performance. The play begins very much like the book: the curious case of an obstinate mosquito, a female narrator in a Lagos suburb and daybreak on a Monday morning.
How can one exhaust the narrative of about 20 million people in an hour stage play? Segun Adefila’s Crown Troupe, in adapting a slim volume of Lagosque observations, paid attention to the commonalities, where our humanities intersect, where our experiences merge: in Kombi buses, in Pentecostal churches, at lavish parties and everywhere else. The landscape of the narrative is first panoramic and then narrows in on private lives. The social standing of gossip is emphasized even when its reliability is in question; it often offers a sketchy and inaccurate but plausible view of other lives. Motives are left hanging in the air, perhaps because motives are psychological departures that tend into infinity; they are better shorn off the stage.
And the Lagosians characters are paired for comic effect. The enthusiastic evangelist, who canvasses for financial seed, and the faithful man who gives his transport fare home unwittingly. The aging Igbo spinster and her greedy father whose bizarre list of items includes both a tanker of diesel and his son-in-law’s pubic hair. The frugal well-dressed everyman and the malicious conductor who suffers him for his meager five naira change. The Lothario academic and a female undergraduate who must spread her legs to conquer her examinations. Even the ungainly incidence of power outage, perhaps unintended, worked its way into the play, a perfect assertion of our realities.
The scope of the play dances around the working class, the petit bourgeoisie, the wannabes, the have-been-to, the very people who give Lagos its socio-economic bite. The Ikoyi folks are exempted, perhaps with reason. There is hardly any delight in being able to afford three square meals unflinchingly or being able to fuel an industrial generator in spite of PHCN.
The era of the Lagos in question fails to be explicitly disclosed, but I would swing a wild guess that it is the fourth republic, even if the music medley reflects the nostalgia of dying genres like Highlife and Juju music. It is also interesting that the play is directed by another Joy, Joy Akrah, a veteran performer and member of the Crown Troupe.
Paraga is just as important as any other element of this Lagos narrative. Paraga joint conversations reflect the psyche of our society at worst and at best offersjuicy gossips that often delight: humans cannot tire talking about themselves and others. Here, the characters of this Lagos microcosm reflected are appraised: the society lady who sleeps with a rich politician, the evangelist rumoured to have executed a resurrection, the aging spinster whose marriage remains a mirage. This is the confluence of Lagos lives; this is where the dialogues of our existence begin and end and start again. And this is a fitting place to let the curtains fall on such a delightful play.
Eko Dialogue opens again at Freedom Park on June 14, Terra Kulture on Sunday June 22 and 29.