By Anote Ajeluorou
Nigeria’s current situation since the inauguration of a new government in May typifies Ola Rotimi’s absurdist play Holding Talks. There has been so much talk about change, fight against corruption and how to make life bearable for all Nigerians.
Sadly, it has been all talk. A reversal of the promises made during the campaigns has been the daily reality. As the sub-title aptly suggests, ‘Relentless talks with no action kills a nation,’ and Nigeria is fast slipping down the slope, the hope for change thinning out, with the citizens beginning to wonder if this was the change they voted for.
Holding Talks is one of Rotimi’s vintage plays that speak eloquently to the African condition. So much is being said about the development strides to be made by those who purport to lead but so little progress has beenachieved. And that brings another round of talks about new, unrealisable agendas being set with specific deadlines that don’t get fulfilled. One government after another leaves office without as much as having made any impact or difference in the lives of the people for whom they held office in trust.
This was the dramatic plot that played out before a scanty audience last Sunday at The Ethnic Heritage Centre on Raymond Njoku Street, Ikoyi, Lagos, when Kininso Koncepts Productions performed Holding Talks, directed by Joshua Alabi. There will be encore of the play performance today at the same venue.
And so the play opens with a barber’s apprentice (Eriakha Edgar) leafing through old newspapers and reeling out the various headlines on the crises in parts of the world. His boss (Gbadamosi Oladapo) arrives and slumps on a bench to rest. Soon enough, a man (Opeyemi Dada) walks in to have a haircut. The barber reluctantly fiddles with his instruments. But just when he’s about to do his job, he is interrupted by the man who has observed that his hand are shaking. The barber denies it, and this generates heated argument between them. The apprentice urges his boss to admit that his hand shakes and let the matter be, but his boss insists that the man is wrong. The customer offers to bet with N1000 to the barber’s N150.
Meanwhile, the man’s hair remains uncut.
But the barber hasn’t eaten all day and says he could only part with N100 for the bet and spare N50 for food to which the man also halves his bet sum to N500. A simple test and the barber finally admits that his hand shakes, but blames it on hunger, that he has not eaten all day. Just then he collapses and dies. The apprentice is alarmed and urges the man/customer to help take the man to hospital, hoping the barber can still be revived. But the man is infuriated and it brings out the worse in him, as he begins some lengthy argument on the possible nasty results that simple action can bring them.
First, he accuses the barber of causing his own death when he should simply have admitted the truth, but he decides to argue instead. Then he puts the apprentice on the spot. Suppose he is the driver of a cab, would he allow a dead man to be deposited in his cab? And suppose he is a fellow passenger in a mini bus, would he allow a dead man to ride with him in it? Although he came in a car, the man declines to carry the dead man in it; it isn’t the right action to take, he argues.
As last resort, he dispatches the apprentice to fetch the police. A policewoman (Ikhatalor Blessing) arrives and she begins to ask the usually annoying police questions. Who killed him? How did he die? What was the last thing he said? Who witnessed him die? This line of questioning infuriates the man who also counters the policewoman and points out the errors in her questions. At a point, he refuses to answer more questions and the policewoman is shocked at his attitude; she stomps off to fetch more men, just as the lights fade.
THE Joshua Alabi-led Kininso Koncepts Production of Holding Talks did a good job of staging the play. The play’s absurd and seemingly abstract nature makes it quite a task to realise, being a one act play, both in its intense dialogue that doesn’t give room for a pause or scene change. And in about 40 minutes, Rotimi packs in so much the audience is riveted on the fast-paced narrative that also says nothing meaningful in particular. It’s the futility of aimless talks that yield no results. That in itself is the success of the play; so much is said but nothing is realised. A man is dead or dying, yet nothing is being done either to save him or take him to the morgue both by those at the scene and the police that arrive later. Rather, they are all engaged in some intense, aimless inquisition.
While Alabi and his theatre group are doing their best to keep the centre alive, the owners or managers of The Ethnic Heritage Centre need to do more media-friendly artistic events, programming and campaign to attract audience to it. Perhaps, they need to copy the Terra Kulture model to pull in the crowd. While Kininso Koncepts Productions is on the right track and doggedly propagating theatre performance, the onus rests more with the centre itself to endear Lagos art and culture community to itself for the patronage it needs if it is to be reckoned with.
That campaign should start now as Holding Talks takes c entre-stage again today.