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 WEDDING BLUES, are being revisited and reviewed.

Temi has no clue how to be a wife. She’s smart, ambitious, gentle, curious – all appreciable qualities in a human – but these do not matter on the day of her wedding when she receives a crash course on the art of being a wife from ‘well meaning’ friends and family members. Thus, her major predicament coincides with her day of joy and sets the tone for Joy Isi-Bewaji’s Wedding Blues, produced by the Beeta International Arts Foundation, and one of the five curated shows at the 2017 Lagos Theatre Festival.

It shouldn’t be a problem because a marriage is a bond wrought in love between two unique individuals, and while there should be a knowledge base, this shouldn’t present a gloomy picture of a union that’s just as exciting as a monotonous desk job. Temi (Damilola Adegbite Attoh) asks pertinent questions, probing certain socio-cultural and religious rules set to frustrate her happiness but is being shut down every step of the way. All that matters is her being a wife, submissive, scheming, and manipulative in equal measure – everything but who she really is.

No, her marriage cannot be as she wants and hopes for it to be, but as society permits. One would wonder if she was getting married to society, rather than one man. It’s a testament to how the collective, which can be a good thing at times, is also capable of stifling individual fulfilment. A particularly striking moment in the play is when, Temi, weary from the information overload during her course, ‘Being a Wife 101’, complains of a headache but her simple request for a pain reliever is ignored. A Pastor is invited to lay hands on her, shaking her head vigorously in the process. Even when the pain persists, her requests are constantly brushed aside.

Damilola Adegbite executes her role as a bride-to-be brilliantly, complemented by an ensemble of actors who do justice to their roles. Big names aren’t lacking: from Osas Ighodaro Ajibade whose act as a pregnant and overbearing relative is heart-warming, to Bola Haastrup, Bikiya Graham-Douglas, Paul Morgan, and Patrick Diabuah.

The stage and lighting work together to convey the appropriate mood; it’s just a couch, but one not out of place in any traditional wedding ceremony and the fluorescent hue sets the perfect tone. Costumes are appropriate – flamboyant even, as weddings are a big deal in the Nigerian society. All eyes are on the bride; she alone has the burden of doing everything possible to make the marriage work, so while she anticipates a glorious time in the sun, the pressure transforms it into a boiler room of sorts. Drummers intermittently usher in key members of the family as is normal a practice at any Yoruba engagement ceremony – the groom, the bride’s father and so on. But while it is refreshing at first, it becomes quite tedious too early. One entry would have been fine.

Timing could however have been better, as well as the use of a proper stage because the entry and exit of characters lagged a bit. Temi’s constant presence on the lit stage, while being a subtle reminder on society’s one-sided pressure on women, becomes as ponderous as watching a still frame, affecting the pacing. But the producers were smart enough to remedy this by keeping things short. Too long and the audience who appear taken enough, would be wont to give themselves to other distractions – as a few of them did. The arrival of other interesting characters, especially with the right doses of humour injected, helped to get straying minds back on track before they wander too far.

Gender roles in the Nigerian society is quite the hot and controversial topic these days and a more serious approach – especially as this focuses on the woman – would have come off as just another sermon from a disillusioned feminist. However, Wedding Blues does well in this regard because it’s more of a parody. In the end, the audience reacts well to a touchy social issue that when examined by means of satire does more to aid the conversation than any other take.

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