By Anote Ajeluorou
How does a writer deal with the psychological trauma that war imposes on a hapless people? How does a writer respond to two young army colonels – Emeka Ojukwu and Yakubu Gowon, who, not being able to manage their personal egos, resort to war to test out their wills and therefore subject their people to the horrors of war? What does an author make of the carnage of human lives sent too early to their graves? What happens to the countless dead? To what degenerate levels can man sink when faced with the tragic consequences of war? These must have been some of the thoughts that went through Wole Soyinka’s mind when he wrote the cynical play Madmen and Specialists.
These issues were also played out before a packed audience when it was performed last Sunday at Terra Kulture by PAWS Production and directed by Kenneth Uphopho. There is a repeat performance of the play today at 3pm and 6pm.
It is the Nigerian Civil war of 1967-1970 and just about the time the playwright Soyinka was also imprisoned for 22 months while the war ragged and the innocent and hapless Biafrans (Igbo) were being pummelled by the federal forces. While Soyinka emerged from prison with The Man Died, his prison memoir, he couldn’t turn away from the grim realities of a senseless war on account of which he went to prison in the first instance. The result of his views on the war is what Madmen and Specialists is about.
Bero (Patrick Diabua) is a doctor of sorts who goes to war and is soon converted into intelligence unit. His father, too, joins the war and, stunned by the orgy of violence and countless dead, devices an ingenuous way of dealing with the situation. Rather than allow the dead to go to waste, he begins to preach the philosophy of cannibalism, turning the dead into meat and actually savouring the human flesh. After all, when other animals are killed they are eaten. Why not humans who are killed by the willful acts of man? Bero, too, becomes a convert to his father’s morbid taste.
Meanwhile, Siberu is Bero’s sister who is made to keep the home front while the men are gone to war. She keeps her brother’s medical paraphernalia of herbal materials going and piles up some more while he is away. She has the assistance of two elderly women, who also versed the art of herbs. In fact, they serve as counterpoise to the war’s ravage and wreck, as earth mothers whose role it is to preserve the fragile earth on which destruction is being visited by the war. They are the ones who, while Bero and his father are away at war, help Siberu to maintain sanity and focus and the probable loss of the two men in her life to wat.
Meanwhile, Bero had detailed a group of beggars, who carry various war scars, to keep watch over Siberu and her activities and the earth women. The beggars are also Bero’s father’s eyes and ears. Bero and his father, who he secrets away at his laboratory after suffering the psychological blow of war, are locked in the ideological contest of ‘AS’, as the symbol of all knowledge and the morality otherwise of the method chosen to execute their scheme. In exasperation, Bero kills his father to end what has obviously become a mad proposition.
On account of the complexity of the play that deploys the typical Soyinkaen language that goes round and round in confusing circles, the producers had to intervene in a question and answer session to further throw light on the play. This produced its own hilarious moments both for the packed audience and the cast. Also heartwarming was that the performance of Madmen and Specialists during the long break the hall filled to capacity with guests; it somewhat gives a lie to a poor appreciation of live performances charged against Nigerians. The producers would pleasurably delighted should they record such massive audience attendance in the two shows billed for today to bring Soyinka’s Madmen and Specialists’ performance to an end.