Ayodeji Rotinwa: A Cinderella story with a cause

by Ayodeji Rotinwa

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Attempting to recreate the classic Cinderella story in a new, innovative was always going to be an uphill task even for the most creative director/production house…

If stage plays were to be judged strictly by their opening scenes, then “the Crystal Slipper” would be classed as dead on arrival. This however was unexpected going by preceding credits. The play, a Thespian Family Theatre production, was written by Ayodele Jaiyesimi who had penned other critically-acclaimed plays such as Mad King of Ijudiya, Five Maids of Fadaka. It was to be directed by ageless, tireless thespian, Abiola Segun-Williams. Its cast was bursting at the seams with talent in the persons of Gideon Okeke, Van Vicker, Florence Okechukwu, and a host of others. Surely one would be forgiven to have expected a near seamless production?
Held at the Agip Hall, MUSON Centre, Lagos, the play was a stage adaptation of the classic Cinderella story albeit with a number of uniquely flavoured changes – it was more comedy than drama, it married multimedia , concert and choreography with stage play to winning effect and was themed in consonance with asthma-in-children advocacy.

The play’s questionable opening scene was a needlessly histrionic poetic soliloquy about asthma, blocked airways, false mucus, dust, humidity and other such triggers of an asthma attack. However, what it lacked gapingly in authenticity, it made up for in its message about the scourge of asthma and what needs to be done about it.

The play then took flight. At once, the stage was lit in succession by the robust characters of Sewa, played by ravishing new talent Adesua Etomi, Feri, (Inna Eriza) Tunji (Gideon Okeke) and Ojemba (Chinedu Emmanuel). Tunji is a widowed man who lost his wife to the suffocating grip of asthma and is now left with his only daughter and child, Sewa. Both long for and miss the woman around whom their life once revolved but are yet desirous of moving on and welcoming a new woman into their home. Feri and Ojemba are the riotously side-splitting domestic staffs who have now become a part of the family having served Tunji and his deceased wife for decades. Completing the motley family crew is their near inaudible, animated security guard, Maliki played by seasoned TV soap star, Iyke Okechukwu of Africa Magic’s Tinsel fame.

Life is a gay affair for Tunji and Sewa, interspersed by recollections of their lost wife and mother. A video montage plays to this effect overhead on the stage, an interesting cinema-in-play signature. Soon and startlingly so, they both burst into a compelling, pre-recorded song, mouthing lyrics as the real thing plays in the background. Theirs is ultimately a serene, settled life.

Imbalance soon comes in form of new additions to the family, a new wife, Atolani played by Shafi Bello-Akinrimisi and stepsisters, Adeola and Adelani, played by Kemi ‘Lala’ Akindoju and Florence Okechukwu, respectively. Atolani and her daughters are at first sickly sweet to Sewa. Soon though, unfortunately for Sewa, her father Tunji has to leave the country to chase a business opportunity, then the claws come out. Sewa’s status as a daughter of the family is briskly reviewed and she is promptly relegated to being a domestic help. The Cinderella plot then plays out in full with comedic alterations. These alternations come in form of the domestic staffs. Ojemba and Maliki share the same love interest, a voluptuous liqueur trader, Iwojowo (Uzor Osimpa) and get into several hysterical altercations in a bid to win her attention and love. Ojemba and Maliki couldn’t be any more different. Between Ojemba’s heavily accented Igbo-English and Maliki’s atrocious pronunciations, there’s a vast room for comic relief and the hall roared in laughter and appreciation. Feri, on the other hand defends Sewa at every turn, especially against the wiles of her step-sisters and step-mother who are intent on turning her into a cocktail of domestic/professional help- housemaid, laundrywoman, personal assistant, stylist. Further illustrating these many, varied interactions and giving them verve were a sonorous stage-side choir whose renditions carved out the emotions that would have been otherwise insufficiently expressed by speech alone, a dance interlude that carried out the same function, pre-recorded video scenes that carried on where the action on stage left off and a concert-in-play raising awareness about the incidence of asthma in children in Africa.

The concert, headlined by Van Vicker playing himself and throwing light on the work of the Oluwakemi Memorial Foundation which does exist in real life, with the same mandate doubled as a scene in the play in which Atolani and her daughters attend but had previously banned Sewa from doing same. Sewa disobeys and attends but is warned by Feri to return beforemidnight. At the concert, she catches the eye of Van Vicker but cannot dwell much on this attraction as 12 midnight strikes and she has to flee in a huff, leaving a ‘crystal slipper’ behind. Soon, predictably, Vicker mounts a search for his ‘crystal slipper girl’ and (surprise, surprise!) makes Sewa’s house as the first point of call. Tunji, at this point has arrived back from his business sojourn and has learnt of Atolani’s maltreatment of his daughter. Vicker explains his mission regardless and touches on the asthma advocacy leading Tunji to launch into a monologue about his late wife. The crystal slipper is then presented and it fits Sewa, cueing curtain call and capping what was a master class in stage acting by all the actors and directing/production by Abiola Segun-Williams and the Thespian Family Theatre.

Attempting to recreate the classic Cinderella story in a new, innovative was always going to be an uphill task even for the most creative director/production house. Deciding instead to add new, particularly rambunctious, hilarious characters with gut-busting dialogue in tow, choreography, and concert was an ingenious touch and coupled with the fact that it helped spread the gospel of asthma advocacy, the play was overall, breath-taking….

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Republished with the permission of the author.

 

Read this article in the ThisDay Newspapers

 

Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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