A play with a ‘love angle’ from the hands of playwright, Wole Soyinka? ‘Unlikely to Impossible’ would be the response. Well, here is one, sort of, but not without its astringents, as the audience will discover. Subtitled “A Lagosian Kaleidoscope”, the action takes us through the seamy underbelly of a bustling, chaotic and predatory environment that still seethes beneath the surface of the city, despite all physical transformation since the days of the military. Indeed, Lagos would no longer be Lagos without that underbelly.

 

AREA BOY was fated to premiere in Leeds, England, from where it toured a number of European cities and Australia. Eventually directed by the author himself in Kingston, Jamaica on invitation from a company known simply as ‘The Company’, the playwright/director worked with a group of disadvantaged youngsters. Soyinka has occasionally remarked that the Jamaican production was one of the most hair-raising in which he was ever involved – thanks to the violence of the environment, compared to which Lagos sometimes seemed a Boy Scouts camp ground. 

 

The play is set in the middle of a military dictatorship. Action centres on a day in the life of a rather unusual ‘megadi’ in charge of an upscale plaza that jostles with a slum environment. The megadi not only looks after the plaza but oversees the local habituees, shoppers, and other oddities to the area, among them a disbarred lawyer with a slippery seizure on reality. 

Here is a historical note that may help audiences situate themselves in the time in which the action take place:

 The play was written in 1990, during – if anyone needs reminding – the Abacha season of terror.  It was in fact already in the preliminary stages of rehearsal when – to quote the author himself – he was strongly urged to take a “political sabbatical”.  LBHF is grateful that he survived the health alert to bring the play back to where it originally belonged. 

 

A question worth considering: has much changed since then? If numerous indecencies of governance conduct during the past fifteen years, right up to and including the most recent elections, do not provoke the question in the minds of the entire nation, then perhaps the arbitrary inflictions of uniformed violence on civil society, as most recently manifested in last year’s military rampage along Ikorodu Road, deserves to be accorded nostalgic place in the hearts of Lagosians. The police appear to be doing their best to fill that space of nostalgia, as their psychopathic protagonists unveil a manifesto of public response that promises not merely an eye for an eye , but a twenty-to-one response in body count. Never, in a nation’s life, was sacrosanctity of the uniform so highly valued, nor civilian life so boastfully devalued.  

As yet another ‘militrician’ (democratic born-again rarity?) rides into power – and paradoxically on enthusiastic civilian backs – the wider kaleidoscope continues its disorientating, yet fascinating projections of the Nigerian landscape. Good luck, good people! – and no pun intended, only a heartfelt invocation and – a call to unabating vigilance! 

 - Wole Soyinka