From Langbodo with blood and gold
By Akeem Lasisi
Published: Wednesday, 17 Sep 2008
At the maiden show of The Adventure in the Forest of a Thousand Daemons, an adaptation of D.O. Fagunwa‘s novel, Ogboju Ode Ninu Igbo Irunmole, the audience have a taste of magical realism.
A scene from the play.
With the magnificent structures dotting its vast edifying ambience, you can hardly mistake the MUSON Centre, Lagos for any other entertainment arena. So it was for members of the public that trooped into the complex on Saturday to watch The Adventures of a Thousand Demons, Femi Osofisan‘s theatrical adaptation of D. O. Fagunwa‘s Ogboju Ode Ninu Igbo Irunmole.
But on hitting the entrance of the Shell Hall, which was the venue of the performance, the story changed. A colony of trees on your right, an empire of stones on the left, you were spontaneously transported into a wild forest. It was this forest that ushered you into the expansive hall that also wore the garment of an unfathomable wilderness – dripping with bitter laughter and sweet tears of supernatural spirits.
On the sprawling stage lying ahead of you was a sacred foot path winding meandering through a network of sacred woods. On the roof, and entirely covering the walls of the hall, were ewele mats, which reminded learned members of the audience of the type that Egbere, one of Fagunwa‘s spirit characters wield in the novel. More important, however, was the fact that the eerie stage would soon become the battle ground for the die-hard principalities and brave men on excursion to Oke Langbodo, the ultimate destination of the Fagunwa‘s seven hunters in the mother script. As if you were no more at the MUSON, lions roared, elephants boomed just as wild, wild birds shrieked intermittently to warn the uninitiated of the dangers ahead.
But because the transformation was a make-believe, drums also roared. Tongues wagged in penetrating songs just as practised legs rolled in dance, invoking applause from the audience who were once again jolted back into the beauty of stage plays.
Such were the spectacles that the much publicised play invoked. It was the English version of the script commissioned by Chams Plc, which announced its arrival in the world of theatre promotion and development recently. Simultaneously, revered scholar and writer, Professor Akinwumi Ishola, was asked to write a Yoruba adaptation of the novel, with Tunde Awosanmi and Kola Oyewo directing respectively.
Coming in two parts, Osofisan‘s Adventures into the Forest of a Thousand Daemons captures the trials and triumphs of Akaraogun (Toyin Osinaike) and his hunting colleagues who go in search of a metaphoric Langbodo, for the sake of their fatherland for which they are out to attract resources that will invoke progress.
Since no good thing comes easy – and that is one basic lesson that both Fagunwa and Osofisan teach in the work – they encounter stiff adversity on their way. They have to wrestle with many daemons in the forest. But they too are very much prepared. Apart from physical strength, each of the adventurers has a special natural trait that proves very useful each time the chips are down. For instance, while Kako‘s invincible club can knock even an elephant, Olohun Iyo‘s sweet-singing voice can lure the most dreadful cobra to sleep. Imodoye, a name derived from knowledge and wisdom, is in the team to think and reason intelligently each time his people are in trouble. Very cleverly, Osofisan not only retains such values that Fagunwa wants the reader to pay attention to in human and societal development, he also develops the character of Akaraogun in such a way that he is a symbol of quality leadership – demonstrating determination, perseverance, and sowing no seed of hatred among the hunters he leads.
Among others, the battle with Agbako is hell hot. But for the helping spirit played by Ify Agwu, none of the adventurers would have survived his punch.
Apart from Osinaike, a thoroughbred actor, in the cast were tested hands such as Gogo Ombo Ombo (Elegbede Ode), Taiwo Ibikunle (Olohun Iyo), Martins Iwuagwu (Kako), Simileoluwa Hassan (Efoye) and Afolabi Dipeolu (Imodoye).
Also in action were Tunde Adeyemo (Oba), and actress and poet, Ify Agwu, (Iranlowo), who inspiringly carried the helper spirit that saw the hunters through the promise land.
Although Osofisan is that loyal to the spirit of the novel, he asserts freedom in certain significant areas. For instance, he introduces a lot of songs and dances. Besides, he brings in folklores that he employs to ventilate the structure of the play, while also using such to teach morality. But where he seems to have been extremely creative – or is it the director that should claim the kudos – is the point he introduces the ritual poetry, Iremoje, which hunters use to celebrate a dead colleague.
As fate would have it, the hunters lost three of their members, among who is Kako, whose hot temper remains his insatiable albatross. Now, on returning to their town after about 20 months of search for Langbodo, the hunters burst into Iremoje, and the attempt is very close to the way Yoruba hunters perform the ritual poetry in real life.
Osofisan‘s radical approach can also be seen in his interpretation of Oke Langbodo itself. Speaking through Akaraogun and Iranlowo, the playwright‘s message to the audience is that Langbodo is not a place. It is a moment of revelation, wisdom, knowledge and understanding of what brings peace and progress for the individual and society.
Altogether, The Adventures in the Forest of a Thousand Daemons is a successful exercise in attempting to revitalise live theatre in Nigeria.
Perhaps, the play can be tightened a bit, and this can be achieved by reducing the number of dramatised folklores. Besides, a fat person should have been made to play the role of the elephant.
On the part of Chams, theatre lovers can only hope that it will be able to sustain the project.
According to the company‘s Managing Director, Chief Demola Aladekomo, who led the company‘s workers dressed in dazzling green uniform traditional dresses to the show, it decided to rally the practitioners to the stage because of the roles that drama plays in the society.
Chams resurrects the theatre Muson Centre
By Super Admin Published September 22, 2008
Forest of a Thousand Daemons
The expectation was already high long before Adventures into the Forest of a Thousand Daemons opened to audiences for two days last week in the commodious Shell Hall of Muson Centre in Lagos.
A preview at Ibadan weeks before had writer and journalist, Maxim Uzor Uzoatu, gushing over with praises, declaring the performance as “a rousing advertisement of total theatre.”
Since then, the cast and crew have been beavering away, fine-tuning Professor Femi Osofisan’s adaptation of Daniel Olorunfemi Fagunwa’s Ogboju Ode Ninu Igbo Irunmole, helpfully translated into English for non-Yoruba readers as The Forest of a Thousand Daemons by Profesor Wole Soyinka.
And when the English version of the play finally opened on Saturday, September 13, the effort of the production crew was not in vain. Neither was the audience disappointed.
And for the sponsors, Chams plc, an acronym for Computer Hardware and Management Services, an information and communications technology company known for its card-based services, e-commerce and mobile payment schemes, it was an unparalleled success.
Guests arriving at Shell Hall that evening were treated to something refreshingly different from the usual fare of concerts and wedding receptions at Muson. Instead of the usual red carpet, there were rolls and rolls of mats, yes mats, leading to the foyer where leafy trees and palms lined the way to the auditorium.
Standing close by the trees were painted dwarves along the aisles, and barefooted maidens in green outfits with plaited hair ushering guests to their seats. Strewn here and there were clay pots containing cowries and shells. And on the stage itself were hefty trees forming the backdrop for a play whose action takes place mostly in a forest.
In the opening scene, we see Akaraogun, an intrepid hunter whose motto can be likened to that of the British SAS (“Who dares wins,”) recounting his exploits to and from the forest of demons, the dangers encountered. Played with gusto by Toyin Oshinaike, he returns to a hero’s welcome by the villagers who are eager to hear his exploits.
Afterwards, there is merriment. While this lasts, the Oba, already chaffing presumably because of Akaraogun’s overwhelming fame, dares him with another challenge – a journey to the summit of Mount Langbodo. Since he is the bravest man in the village, why not take on this new adventure to Mount Langbodo?
A man ever in quest of the unknown, Akaraogun accepts but agrees to ascend the mountain along with five other notable and equally fearless hunters in the community, Olohun Iyo (Taiwo Ibikunle) Kako (Martins Iwuagwu) Efo Iye (Simileoluwa Hassan) Imodoye (Edward Afolabi Dipeolu) and Elegbede Ode (Ombo Gogo Ombo).
Adventures into the Forest is not just a play about an individual with cojones. It is about other human traits of compassion, gratitude, wisdom and, above all, team work. Where the hunters battle Agbako (Martins Iwuagwu) individually and fail, they overwhelm him as a team, thanks to the sagely counsel of Iranlowo.
All the actors acquit themselves creditably, with outstanding perfomances by some. Ify Agwu is one of them. Reminiscent of a Joke Silva on stage, she gave a virtuoso performance in her role as the guardian spirit behind the adventurous hunters such that the audience gave her a spontaneous applause when she curtsied at the end of the play.
Interpersed with song and dance, poetry and proverbs, Adventures into the Forest is a masterful production that professional Thespians like Prof. Osofisan are known for, despite working with a cast of nearly 30. With productions like this, Chams is already living up to their boast of reviving Nigerian’s interest in the stage.
A delightfully long production, the producers/ sponsors were gracious enough to show a documentary on Chams, thus allowing the audience time to reflect on the first part of the performance – as in classical Greek drama – as well as get informed about the ICT company now deeply involved in the arts.
A worthy effort by Chams, no doubt, the production was marred by the choice of Shell Hall. Without the raked seats as you have in the nearby Agip Recital Hall, some of us had to crane our necks to follow the transaction on stage, coupled with ushers who partially blocked the actors from view.
On hand to watch the production were over a hundred members of staff of Chams Plc, distinguished from others in their green outfit and led by the MD/ CEO, Demola Aladekomo and his wife. Mr Tayo Aderinokun, MD of Guaranty Trust Bank, turned up with his wife. There were many more bankers, captains of industry and guests from the academia, as well as Dr. Ahmed Yerima, GM of the National Theatre and laureate of NNLG prize for drama.
As a production, Adventures into the Forest was a success through and through. Endorsed by the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and National Orientation, this is one stage production that is sure to revive interest not only in the theatre but also encourage cultural continuity.
For as Awosunmi writes in his directorial note, “only the ghosts of the likes of Fagunwa and Tutuola can help resurrect our collective sense of responsibility and restore our national right to cultural continuity.” For Osofisan, also, staging Adventures into the Forest would not have been possible without Chams.
“Chams is rendering an immeasurable service to the preservation of our culture, at a time when our country like others in the so-called Third World are faced with the menace of globalisation. It is such projects as this that will help the process of our cultural rebirth. Fagunwa has shown us that we have our own folklore and fables, our stories and sagas and heroes as authentically rich, and enriching, as any other in the world.”
In the coming months, Chams will take Adventures into the Forest to Abuja, Ibadan and Ife. Based on what transpired on the Muson stage last week, this is one production audiences in those cities should be reasonably anxious to watch.