STILL SINGLE IN GIDI: SHEILA OJAY’S LAMPOON OF SOCIAL CONVENTIONS IN LOVE AND RELATIONSHIPS
By Deoye Falade
If there is any atmosphere where the Lagos Theatre Festival could further prove its revolutionary spirit and actualise its mandate of restructuring the creative use of space and the augmentation of conditions germane to the inclusion of more experimental works in the Nigerian theatre – in manner and matter – its fifth edition slated for February 27th to March 4th, 2018 would be apt. Its vision is simple yet intricate: cultivate (new) audiences appreciative of performance art, resourcefully transform space in Nigerian theatre sphere, and engage topical as well as marginal issues that have, through the ages, remained potent enough to be peculiarly Nigerian and require interrogation. The creative works presented in previous instalments of this festival have more than maintained fidelity to this vision, encouraging the rapid development of and sustaining noteworthy dialogues around the theatre form; and it is in furtherance of these, while expectant of another edition, that certain highlights, especially of the 2017 edition, like STILL SINGLE IN GIDI, are being revisited and reviewed.
Co-written with Shirley Urhobo-Enobong, directed by Belinda Yanga-Agedah and performed at the Agip Recital Hall, Muson Centre, during the Lagos Theatre Festival, the comedic but highly contemplative piece of performance art draws inspiration from the everyday life experiences and issues such as ethnicity, social stereotypes, being single, and single parenthood.
Source material for the play is based on a set of blog posts on www.singleingidi.com. As such, the play is a combination of sparse dialogue between characters and extensive monologues. With a star-studded cast featuring Toni Tones, Rita Edward, Timi Charles-Fadipe, Omoye Uzamere, Oludara Egerton-Shyngle, Single in Gidi delivers mostly on acting. The set is a house party, and all the characters, bar one, are dressed in white, a staple colour in contemporary Nigerian parties. Lola shows up in red, and while it’s meant to present her as a wildcard, it only works in her acting which is sometimes in contrast with her costume. It is meant to show off her curves and befuddle the men at the party, but appears tacky, too tight, and quite jarring to the eyes.
The cause of celebration is Tara who has finally been proposed to by Tunji, an eligible bachelor, through a series of tricks summed up as ‘strategic positioning’. It’s funny and diabolical at the same time, and you wonder if those tips on getting a man’s attention and then leading him to propose are not from an unpublished version of Mafia Manager – the Dating and Relationship edition.
The audience – filling every available seat – appears taken, laughing as if on cue, so much so that you would think they are watching a well-executed sitcom. And it’s easy to see why; the play goes for the kill early with Tara, her mother, and Eloho, a friend of hers, delivering their lines with such palpable chemistry. The prayer session with Tara’s mother praying for the defiantly single Eloho to find a good husband (perhaps in order for her not to be a stumbling block to Tara’s marriage) is particularly funny, while also casting a light on the selfish motives behind prayers.
You also get to see how well or awry single parenting can go, depending on good support systems in families. Depending on their decision to throw the pregnant daughter to the wolves for soiling the family’s name or hurriedly assembling a wedding to cover up the ‘mess’, the lady might end up in a sorry, loveless marriage or as a struggling mom alone in the world. If all goes well, she ends up like Buki, one of Tara’s friends – confident, independent, and well protected by her loved ones.
The stage appears to be well utilised, ‘idling’ characters take the backseat for those in focus and the lighting helps in this regard. Sometimes, the male characters – Tunji’s friends, Chuka and Richie – talk from the background, not as themselves but representing the opinions and biases of the average Nigerian man. Both Tunji’s friends outshine him by the way, with much more energetic deliveries and memorable lines too. For large swathes of time, Tunji largely comes across as a prop with how disinterested he looks that he could as well have been a microphone. One wonders if this is the intention, but it largely fails. He only redeems himself in the later stages, from when Lola makes her appearance as the sultry lady in red.
There are a few sound miscues, but this is easily forgiven or even barely noticeable, considering how much fun you’re having. And it doesn’t hurt the story at all, with the mixture of monologues and dialogues saving one other at the right time. Overall, the play seems to achieve its objective: elicit laughs, entertain, make the audience think and push new conversations forward on social issues, especially regarding marriage and relationships. On this level, just like with the source blog, Still Single in Gidi largely succeeds.