By Anote Ajeluorou
ECHOES of this year’s Garden City Literary Festival (GCLF) that ended two weeks ago, continues to linger. Not only were there-conversations around literary themes and workshops held for aspiring writers in the various genres of fiction, drama and poetry, as well as on journalism, all anchored by seasoned resource persons in the various areas, drama also took a prominent position.
In all, four dramatic persentations took place to the delight of those who were privileged to attend. But of the four, Ola Rotimi’s unpublished play, Man Talk, Woman Talk, was one offering that blew the audience. Two reasons were responsible for its huge success. First, Rotimi was one of Nigeria’s finest dramatists until he passed on a few years ago. Two, students of University of Benin that performed it knew what was required of them and they gave their all to ensure a breath-taking performance.
It was Tuesday, day two of the opening of GCLF, and participants were just warming up to the rhythm of the festival that had a mix of old and young writers getting ready to take the various podiums and display to the Port Harcourt audience the stuff their writings were made of. There were such big names as Profs. Molara Ogundipe, Akachi Ezeigbo, Femi Osofisan, Karen King-Aribisala and a host of local writers and critics from University of Port Harcourt. This array of scholars and writers was later joined by Ghana’s female author, Ama Ata Aidoo, whose presentation was on gender politics in Africa.
Others were Wole Oguntokun, Segun Adefila, Tade Ipadeola, Kaine Agary, Chimeka Garricks, Ifeanyi Ajaegbo, and even former CNN reporter, Femi Oke.
Others whose presence added colour to the festival of letters were Nigeria’s legendary writer, Prof. Chinua Achebe, who was represented by his son, Dr. Chidi Achebe; and also favours American civil rights activist, Rev. Jesse Jackson. Of course, Rivers State governor, Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, who was the chief host, made his presence felt as he took part in the literary discourse, whose theme, ‘Literature and Politics’, he helped designed.
Held at the mini theatre of Hotel Presidential, Man Talk, Woman Talk, with its campus setting, played up all the familiar squabbles between male and female students and their interrelationships with each other; and lecturers.
A well martialed discourse on masculinity and femininity and how both sexes have used and abused what they have that also set them apart, the play was a cliff-hanger that took both the performers and the audience to unbelievable heights of dramatic possibilities in seasoned argumentation.
First, the hall was split into two. Women sat on the left side while men sat on the right side. The two antagonists sat or stood to the side they opposed. Thus, the male student was on the left side where the women sat while the female student was on the right side where the men sat. With the director’s injunction that the audience should not laugh and thus gagging them, the stage was set for an explosive journey of wit and brains between the two antagonists who came at each other with the viciousness of bull-fighters.
Indeed, the female student held her own side firmly and gave the male student no quarters to intimidate her. She countered every of his verbal assault and responded with her own counter-claims that stunned even the secretary recording the proceedings of the fact-finding commission of enquiry. It was so intense that the secretary could not even step out a second to pass water even though he was desperately pressed to do so. It attested to the resounding success of the play and its sterling performance.
INDEED, while the craftsmanship of the late dramatist, Prof. Rotimi, deserved to be applauded once again, the performance of the cast took the thrill all the way. For such a hugely successful performance, only a small hall like the one at Hotel Presidential could be found to host it. Another run at the big auditorium at University of Port Harcourt could have done just as nicely for the academic audience, especially for the students that turned out in their large numbers to be part of the festival symposia.
Instead, it was the rather tame and uninspiring adaptation of Achebe’s A Man of the People that got two performances. A Man of the People is Achebe’s satirical novel on Nigerian politics during the first Republic and shortly before military intervention. Prophetic for its ending that swept away the first civilian government after independence, Governor Amaechi has found in the book his political inspiration, of how not to play politics of entrenched self-centredness at the expense of the majority. It was probably at his instance that the novel was adapted for stage production.
Its first performance was at Government House Banquet Hall. With a performance area that was the same level as the audience, it could only boast of a craftily managed set design that also served as scene change once it was moved or rotated, as its strong point. Clearly, it was Governor Amaechi’s idea; and, he must have been thrilled by it. The second performance was at Hotel Presidential on a proper stage, but it was the same rowdy outing with little dramatic effect.
Lastly, school children performed Aidoo’s Dilemma of a Ghost at Hotel Presidential to the delight of the author, who was guest of honour. She was so touched that she poured encomiums on the little performers, students of Port Harcourt International School, for giving so much life to her characters at their age. Aidoo hugged them all and took photographs with them as keepsake of her journey to GCLF 2011 in Nigeria.
The festival came to an end on the evening of Saturday, September 17 with poetry performances. Elder artsman Lindsay Barrett led the train with poet and journalist like Akeem Lasisi surpassing himself, even as he went on the over-kill with a sublime act. Turkish translator of African poets into Turk language, Ilyas Tunc, joined the performers alongside Ipadeola in one of Gabriel Okara’s poems. He read his own poem, too. Prof. Karen King-Aribisala persented a short story in rare poetic fashion that got the audience stunned in her dramatic, almost hypnotic rendition. Obari Gomba and a few others also performed to cap a weeklong festival of literature.