The curtains will today fall on the month-long production of Wole Soyinka’s play, King Baabu by Oxzygen Concepts at the Amphitheatre, Freedom Park, Lagos.
It has been close to two decades since military rule gave way to democracy in Nigeria and this play, which marked a return of the Nobel Laureate to theatre in 2001 after a hiatus goes back to that era on an engaging and exciting satirical journey. It may be an unauthorised yet comical biography of a particular Nigerian military ruler, but this is also the story of many a sit-tight African leader. Think Robert Mugabe, for instance, who has been in power in Zimbakwe since 1987 and has no plans to step down anytime soon.
General Basha Bash takes power in a coup and begins an elaborate plan to perpetuate himself in office, which seems to be succeeding no thanks to the madam, who would be first lady, her relatives and the sycophants that daily drum praise into Baabu’s head. That head now wears a crown with a robe to match and a new name, King Baabu. A name that strikes terror in Guatu. In this way a general has become king. But the road is not paved with gold and navigating the potholes and sometimes, craters, will draw laughter and tears from every member of the audience from start to finish.
They will also leave with the message that they can get what they want if they fight for it.
Directed by Toyin Oshinaike, this 2001 play is also a protest against military rule in Nigeria, and how beautifully the cast in this production led by Toritseju Ejoh and featuring Rotimi Fakunle, Ikponmwosa Gold and a host of other fantastic actors, who are comfortable on stage, television and the big screen, dramatise it. They effortlessly recall a time not so long ago when you could not tell the men in power that that they were wrong let alone put up a play like this one.
Ejoh is a fine actor and dancer, too. Everyone should go see him do the shoki in this play.
The language, coined specially by the playwright is one more reason to go see the play.
“We turn Guatu into kingdom, ruled by kings. Nobody complain any more. General Basha Bash is dead. Long Live King Baabu,” is just one example of the many words so nicely spoken by Ejoh and the rest of the cast. There is also, “I humble man like grassroot, like humble grass, I nothing”.
This is comedy, the type only Soyinka can craft with his sardonic humour staged only the way that Oshinaike and his well chosen cast and crew can. What is more, two more Oshinaike’s were added to the cast and crew of theatre in Nigeria during this production. Truly, there is a bright future for theatre in the country.