With Ajagun Nla, Duro Ladipo returns to stage

Lagosians savour an engaging play as the Lagos State Government hosts the performance of Duro Ladipo’s Ajagun Nla at the National Theatre, AKEEM LASISI writes

The old glory of the theatre was enacted on Friday when Ajagun Nla (Great warrior), a play written by the late Duro Ladipo, was staged in Lagos. The large crowd that saw the play, the inspiring delivery of it and the excitement the audience exuded showed that the place of the Thespian art is still secure in the country’s entertainment arena.

Interestingly, the personalities and institutions involved in the staging of the socio-political play are also symbolic. It was organised by the family of the legendary dramatist, Duro Ladipo, famed for his Sango recreation exploits, to mark the 40 thanniversary of his (Ladipo’s) death. Although, like versatile comedian, Gbenga Adeboye, he died at the age of 45, the story of the development of the theatre in Nigeria cannot be complete without allocating an ample portion to him in it.

While the play featured some members of the Duro Ladipo family, alongside other good talents such as Segun Adefila, it was directed by Rasak Ojo-Bakare, dramatist, dancer and a former Director-General of the Abuja Carnival, who earned accolades for the effort. But the collaboration was cemented by the Lagos State Government that sponsored the performance, with Duro Ladipo’s own Oya (widow, Abiodun Duro-Ladipo), commending the Ambode administration for the intervention. Now, with the venue being the same constant though somehow embattled (infrastructure-wise) National Theatre, Lagos, the success of Ajagun Nla seems to indicate that a dependable way to bring theatre back to the centre of recreation is through quality collaborations.

But the making of the play should not rob it of its independent artistic entity.  It is the story of the invasion of Yoruba town by Fulani herdsmen. The people have to swiftly prepare for a war to stop them. Unfortunately, neither the Ifa oracle (Adefila) consulted, nor the advice of other elders, could stop the in-fighting among the natives. This is depite the fact that they invited a great warrior –Ajagun Nla – from Ila Orangun (played by Wole Duro-Ladipo) to help them. Some of the elders who fuelled the crisis are Olugbon, Onikoyi and Aresa, respectively played by Muyideen Laala, Kenny Ayeni and Yomi Duro-Ladipo, who ignored the message of Ifa. Unfortunately, there was the notorious Esu (Ayo Ogunsina) in town, who never failed to generate more confusion.

As the war unfolded, the kingdom paid dearly for the disunity and backbiting, which is one of the lessons the audience took away – the need to eliminate suspicion and rancour among families and communities. Of course, the director also tactically emphasised the fact that the herdsmen’s threats have always been there. In other words, Ajagun Nla not only echoes the debacles that certain Fulani herdsmen are causing in  Nigeria currently, it also brings to memory Yoruba’s historical sour encounter with the Fulani in Ilorin, during the Afonja’s rebellion that eventually gave the town to the Fulani.

True to his passion and profession, Ojo-Bakare deploys compelling choreography and beautiful costumes to the performance held at the Cinema Hall Two of the National Theatre.

One of the deceased’s children, Ladepo Duro-Ladipo, who promoted the play, had earlier told The Punch that it was important in the sense that it dramatises a story and history that are very relevant to happenings in the country.  According to him, it is also a great service to his father’s memory.

He said, “The motive is, first, to add to the collection of my father’s works in the archives as a research material in the genre of Traditional African Drama. When I was in the theatre school, precisely in the University of Ilorin Performing Arts Department, there were just two published works of Duro Ladipo : Oba Koso and Eda. Meanwhile, he has over 20 plays, most of which are not scripted. I believe it is important to re-visit some of these plays to provide the  fill up the gaps in terms of content, form and dramaturgy.”

Earlier in a statement, the Lagos State Commissioner of Tourism Arts and Culture, Mr. Steve Ayorinde, said the support being given to the Duro Ladipo family is in fulfilment of the government’s commitment to the promotion of arts and culture as veritable vehicle of tourism promotion.

Similarly, the state government is also committed to celebrating the World Theatre Day on Tuesday, March 27 with stage plays being produced in collaboration with the National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners  and collective artistes from the traditional Yoruba Theatre groups.

According to the commissioner, while NANTAP is collaborating with the National Theatre of Ghana in staging the popular “Marriage of Anansewa” across three venues including, Freedom Park, University of Lagos and MUSON Centre, with the support of Lagos State, the collective artistes featuring Adebayo salami, Jide Kosoko and Yinka Quadri, among other popular names, will stage Erinlakatabu the Indisputable, a tragi-comedy dance drama at the Terra Kulture Arena in Victoria Island, Lagos.

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