It was clear from the rounds of applause and cheers that followed every monologue, the standing ovation at the end of the play. The expectations for ‘Hear Word!’ which came to Ake Arts and Book Festival on Friday November 20 had been high; with giants of the stage Joke Silva, Bimbo Akintola, Elvina Ibru, nothing short of excellence would have been accepted.
The play fulfilled every expectation and more.
Based on a collection of true life stories, Hear Word! explores the issues facing women in the Nigerian community – and women worldwide -, widowhood, rape, marital abuse, sex, religion, aging; how they affect women and how Nigerian women deal with a society that is deeply patriarchal and in a lot of cases oppressive of the woman.
Hear Word! employs comedy in its telling. As a young girl recounts being abused by her uncle, there are sniggers in the hall, the penis referred to as ‘chooku-chooku’ is too much for some to hold in. But humour does not water down the truth of the sequences: in George, a university undergraduate is raped by a man she considered a friend, with who she only wants to ‘hold hands and talk’; in Flying Witch a woman is killed; in Touch another is cheated on, the Black Widow is another victimized by widowhood.
The stories are not all glum though. Nigerian women have been fighting back against an oppressive system: in Family Meeting a woman stands up for herself against an abusive spouse and his uncaring family; the other decides in Woman Trafficking to blow the whistle on a trafficking operation in Italy rather than be cowed; another in Maintenance Culture takes joy in her body and her right to sexual pleasure; yet another in Iyaloja mobilizes her fellow women to carry her case against property-grabbing in-laws.
Where would one find such flawless presentation other than on a stage with the leading ladies of Nigerian theatre? The lines are delivered on cue, the actions in sync, the space is optimized and an audience of writers and lovers of the arts from all over the world is blown away.
The conversations generated from the play are going to continue beyond the actors taking their final bow, beyond the groups of people milling around in the lobby, beyond the Ake Arts and Book Festival; to homes, to churches to workplaces. This is what ‘Hear Word! Naija Women Talk True’ seeks to do. To share stories that will start conversations and spur on a change that will see the Nigerian woman standing up more for herself. To bring to consciousness the subtle and not-so-subtle ways injustice is perpetrated against women by men and other women.
Hear Word! is produced/directed by Ifeoma Fafunwa and has been performed at the MUSON Centre in Lagos, the University of Lagos and the National Theatre and in the open-air venues of some markets in Lagos. ‘Hear Word! Naija Woman Talk True’ is call to Nigerian women to stand up for themselves
The play returns to stage in Lagos from the 25th to the 26th of December, 2015.