I have never really been exposed to a theatre festival or heard of one. So, last weekend, I eagerly looked forward to the Lagos Theatre Festival which took place from Friday, February 28 to Sunday, March2. It was held at the Freedom Park, Old Prison Road, Lagos Island, Lagos.
The rain was almost a stumbling block on Saturday, March 1 – my first day at the three-day festival. I couldn’t go on Friday because of work. Eventually, the rains gave and after battling in a queue for fuel, I made my way to Freedom Park off Broad Street.
In awe of history
Four plays were scheduled for each day of the festival: Make We Waka by Look Left Look Right, Waiting For A Lottery by Oxzygen Koncepts, Diagnosis by Imagine Nigeria and Queen of the Night by Renegade Theatre.
I got to the park at about quarter to four and saw how the various stages had been set for the different plays. It was then it dawned on me, that the plays would be performed almost simultaneously on the separate stages. At the time, Make We Waka was the only one being staged.
Directed, written and created by Molly Taylor and Mimi Poskitt, it was a fusion of an audio tour and a reenactment based on the history of Freedom Park. We were handed MP3 players that took us on a walk around the park, soaking in the sites.
The cast of ‘Make We Waka’
Now, I never really knew what the significance of the Freedom Park was. I had heard it was a place where people could go, relax and have a bowl of nice fresh fish pepper soup and drinks; but its historical meaning was totally lost to me. During the tour, I came to learn that the famous Freedom Park was once the Broad Street Prisons that housed notorious criminals, activists and government opposition parties of the late 50’s and 60′s.
I was in total awe and got the eerie feeling that I might be stepping on the grave of a former inmate. The walk really opened my eyes and after 60 minutes of taking in all the different sites, I had a new found respect for this theatrical experience that got us involved, engaged and informed about our history.
Queen of the Night
Determined to see more than one play, on Sunday, March 2, I set out early and made it to the park just in time to see Wole Oguntokun’s Queen of the Night, performed by Renegade Theatre.
Queen of the Night is a bar run by a Queen who seems to have some mysterious powers. There is no good or bad at this bar and all right and wrong stop at the door. Kamal and his assistant, Pabina, are seeking for a fugitive who frequents the bar and has a sister who works there. Determined to bring this fugitive to book, Kamal decides to do the unthinkable at the bar.
Known for his Theatre at Terra projects, Oguntokun brought his expertise and storytelling skills to bear in this play. I was moved by the story of one of the characters, Esther, a Nigerian girl who fell in love and got conned by a white Briton. She ended up stabbing him in the heart. In all, the play was great and engaging.
I ended my attendance at the festival with the play, Diagnosis, by Imagine Nigeria. It was set around the ills of internet scams.
Johnnie and his best friend, Dan, have gone through hell and decided to pull off internet scams. After striking a chord with Canadian born Adeline who agrees to fund their imaginary NGO scheme, something goes terribly wrong.
I must commend Kemi “Lala” Akindoju for her performance. She took no prisoners in her delivery and performance. The play was set in one of the open spaces of the park, so it seemed like we were watching tales by moonlight as the drama unfolded.
A great experience
My viewing complete, I went home armed with a better respect and knowledge of history. Once a prison yard where men dread to visit, Freedom Park now holds a new meaning that I will never dare trivialize again.
I doff my heart to the British Council Nigeria for bringing us the Lagos Theatre Festival and making the Freedom Park come alive for me. I see this great experience enacted at the National Theatre, what say you?