By Anote Ajeluorou
Centre for Media Development (CMD) is a relatively new training centre for media and theatre studies for young people seeking a hands-on platform to express themselves beyond the regular drill of academics. It’s a development arm of the Lagos Diocese of Catholic Church and located in Ojota. It has just graduated its third batch of students of The Theatre Company, who put up a fairly good performance of Prof. Femi Osofisan’s dark drama Once Upon Four Robbers. With its short duration of three months training led by star actor, Nobert Young and other trainers, CMD is fast proving a place for quality stage orientation for those willing to explore their given talents.
Last Thursday, its third batch of graduating students held alumni, friends, parents and associates spellbound when they performed Once Upon Four Robbers at its open courtyard theatre, CMD Theatre Company, otherwise called ‘poor theatre’. Although Young was apologetic about it, opinion emerging in theatre circles, have continued to sue for more such theatre platforms for open, robust conversation and interaction between actors and the audience. This was exactly what Osofisan’s play succeeded in doing at the end when the religious charlatan, a Moslem cleric, who turns the tide in the lives of four robbers for the worse, and brazenly turning to the audience for answers to the conflict he partly creates: Is it the armed robbers that should be killed for inflicting mayhem on society or the soldiers who uphold the unjust laws of the state created by the corrupt ‘big’ men who run the affairs of state to ruin?
As would be expected, opinion was divided on the night among audience members. Some wanted the soldiers to die and the robbers to go free! At the end, the robbers got the just deserts for taking arms against society. Ironically, the robbers, as always, are a creation of society, a society that fails to take care of its own, a society that has become callous to the weak, that fails to provide for all its members, that creates a divisions, one for the rich one for the poor. It’s a society that breeds malcontent, a society that spits insolence on the faces of many. For those who cannot take it, like Angola (John Ogbonna), Major (Sebastian Ukwa), Hassan (Augustine Aduzie) and Alhaja (Theresa Osereimen); they take to robbing the rich, as the self-enforcers of the social justice abysmally society fails to provide its citizens.
But their leader has just been executed at the Bar Beach, shot, thanks to the decree newly promulgated by the military government. It leaves the other three, including the leader’s wife, in a quandary. While Angola and Hassan are bent on avenging the leader’s death, Major, the pragmatic one, asks his mates for caution because indeed, they are all living dead anyway, having lost so much in their dark crusade against the state. While trying to rally their spirit, they chance upon an aafa, an arbiter of dark desire. He offers the four robbers a charm of a song that turns potential victims into singing and dancing, but they must only use it thrice and be done and by which time they would amassed so much wealth as to warrant their turning a new leaf from the life robbery.
After the second robbery in a market that saw soldiers sent to protect the market falling to the lulling charm of their song, Major sets upon the other three, and takes the loot away to seek another life. But he is eventually caught just before taking away his loot. At his execution, the other three steps forward and owned up, but sets upon the throng and even the soldiers as part of the social problem that created their deviant behaviour and dares them to do the worse…
The performances of students of CMD, who only got training in three months, could be described as wonderful. Their delivery was fine if scrappy in part, but in all Osofisan’s play got good airing in an unlikely but encouraging spot.
The director, Young said the experience has been humbling working in what Jerzy Grotovsky described as ‘Theatre of the poor’, adding, “We teach youth how to act, to empower our youth to go into the market to change the face of Nollywood and entertainment generally. We urge you all to support us, to empower us. In Once Upon Four Robbers, we urge you not to look at our poor theatre, poor environment. One day, we’ll have it great”.
Director of the centre, Rev. Fr.Padre Mike Umoh praised Young for turning raw talent into gold, and noted, “While many Nigeria are ruled by their stomach, Young is ruled by values, quality Nigerians should aspire towards”.