Special feature: why 'Isale Eko' play won’t be forgotten in a while

Theatre, the world over, has its roots in the revels of the followers of a Greek god called Dionysus—the god of fertility and wine. As customary, his cult ceremonies were always exciting occasions where people would seat by a sloppy hill side to watch his devotees dance into a state of frenzy, devouring the raw flesh of sacrificial animals. These ceremonies evolved to include a more structured form of drama in dance and choral form reliving the stories of Greek myth. However, in the 6th century BC, one of the priests of Dionysus whose name was Thespis introduced dialogue, an element that birthed modern theatre and the cinema (the screening of motion pictures). Now, you understand why actors call themselves Thespians these days, don’t you?
The days of crying wolf over the poor cinema culture in Nigeria are long gone considering the way new cinemas spring up almost at every corner and the movies screened rake in tons of millions of naira within a short time. Ironically, the preference of stage plays and patronage remained at an all-time low, kind of, until recent years due to the undying passion of a handful of theatre practitioners and lovers of arts. This continual push is gradually attracting support from philanthropists, the government and corporate organizations thereby directing traffic towards certain event arenas like Freedom Park, Terra Culture, Muson Centre, etc. that are chiefly dedicated to promoting stage plays and live choral performances.
Isale Eko, a historical play written and directed by William Benson, is one of those plays that have enjoyed unprecedented patronage from the state government, corporate organizations and lovers of stage craft. Depicting the Lagos of 18th century as a tributary to the Benin Empire and a major center for slave-trade, it was endorsed and adopted as the official stage play of Lagos at fifty celebrations on the heels of its commemoration of the transitional trends in cultural cum commercial practices by policy makers.
Amidst other celebration schedules, the Agip Hall in Muson Centre at Onikan was filled to overflowing for the first leg and second leg batches of the play held between the 14th and 15th of April, 2017. Indeed, one could argue that the turnout wasn’t just for a stage play but it was. The ‘adopted’ stage paraphernalia was really at its peak consequently adding spice to every scene of the play. The lighting was awesomely perfect to the point that it depicted the different time of the day very convincingly. The interlude employed to douse the tension of the audience in the forms of comic relief and music was also creatively perfect. One of such was Timi Dakolo’s Iyawo Mi. What a way to blend modern music with history!
While speaking to a cross-section of the audience about the stage craft and their viewpoints, many expressed why the play left a lasting impression on them.
Mrs Okunwa, a business woman who came with her kids said ‘I actually got me and my kids the tickets because I was eager to see what the Lagos of yesterday looked like. But in the end, it wasn’t just a history, it was a sweet story of love and betrayal that I saw all through. Kudos to the crew that put this together’.
Miss Chinwe, an accounting student at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka said ‘I’m happy, I am just happy. But I observed, I’m not a professional oh, but I observed some scenes were skipped to meet up with the time schedule…minor scenes though. I also saw how in reality some people could be destined for horrible experiences in life like Mujeru’. Nice crew, nice custome, perfect professionalism’.
Mr Kitan, a writer, said ‘I wanted fun and I got lots of it. I love the way the writer was able to douse our tension at some points with comic relief. That’s really perfect. Great stage management, a-list actors, amazing blend of cultural values, great interlude…infact, it was awesome. Big-ups to the organizers’.
                                               Synopsis of the Play
The play opens with an amazing cultural dance that exhibits a blend of cultural values of the three major ethnic groups (Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa) in Lagos and Nigeria by extension. It also depicts the general saying that ‘Lagos is no man’s land’. The scene that follows ushers in actions on a full-scale. In it, we see Kosoko, one of the Princes of Late Oba Eshinlokun of Isale Eko Kingdom having a heated discussion with an emissary from the Benin Kingdom on their refusal to pay their tribute. Meanwhile, his brother, Idewu, struggles emotionally with an impending doom that has been prophesied hence, his continual refusal to share his wealth with the people of Isale Eko by paying tribute to the Benin Kingdom. Eventually, he makes an unwise choice that leads to his death.
After his demise, his uncle, Akitoye, ascends to the throne illegally and tries to outlaw the ever thriving slave trade. This decision infuriates the populace that conspires with Kosoko who has always wanted to be king after his brother as the custom demands. Akitoye is overthrown and Kosoko becomes the new king of Isale Eko. On ascension, Eletu, the King Maker, who never wished and supported Kosoko’s ascension to the throne because he was a perceived rival, tries to steer a war between the Benin kingdom and Isale Eko Kingdom. The war that looms thereafter is diffused by Osarieme, the wife of Oba Kosoko and the lost princess of Benin Kingdom that was sold into slavery in Isale Eko.
Timeout with the Director of Media and Events, Katung Media Limited, Lisa C. Uwangue

Managing Director, Katunga Media, Mr Mannie Udoh (left) and Director Media/Events, Mrs Lisa C. Uwangue (right)

How were you able to put the event together?
Well, we were able to put this together because we had the zeal to tell the interesting story of old Lagos. When my boss came across the script, he liked it and then we started working to make it a reality. It wasn’t really easy bringing people together considering the huge amount that’s involved. It’s a play that has well over twenty active characters and other crew members. Some of these actors are highflyers and you know what that means. But we thank God that we had sponsorships from different companies like, Century Group, Cakes and Creams, Zenith Bank, Lagos State Government and others. Their assistance really went a long way.
Was it easy convincing these organizations?
Seriously, I won’t say it was easy but somehow, it was because we have a very brilliant director, Mr Mannie Udoh, who can defend anything that is brought to his table. It was also easy, somehow, based on the track records of successful productions that we’ve done before.  Last year, we had Loud Whispers and this year, the Lagos State Government adopted the Isale Eko play as their anniversary play. So, I would say it’s fifty-fifty.
Director Media & Events, Mrs Lisa C. Uwangue

Are you excited with the turnout?
Initially, when the first-leg started yesterday, I was a bit scared because the hall was scanty for the 1pm show but the turnout for the second and third shows was quite massive. The hall was filled to the brim to the point that we had space problem and that was really cool…awesome. Now, we look forward to our UK production which will probably be in the third quarter of the year. After that, we’ll start getting ready for next year (2018) Easter. In the light of the success of our Easter shows, I’ll like to extend our gratitude to the Lagos State Government for giving us the opportunity to do this, for assisting us and being our major sponsor. I must confess that the adoption of our play as the official anniversary play has really given our company an edge over others. I’ll also like to reiterate our appreciation to other companies including Century Group, Zenith Bank, Leadway Assurance and other companies that believed in our dream.

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