Theatre review: Moremi is a tale as old as time

by Wilfred Okiche

Park Theatre, the weekly theatre initiative at Freedom Park, Lagos played host to Crown Troupe of Africa for the month of March. On the weekend of 25th and 26th March, the proceedings coincided with the annual World Theatre Day festivities (27th March) and Crown Troupe staged a revival of one of its most popular shows, Moremi, based on the popular Yoruba myth with origins in Ile Ife, Osun state.

Written by Ayodele Arigbabu and directed with a lightness of touch by Segun Adefila, this revival of Moremi attempts to situate the events of ancient Ife in contemporary times, starring larger than life characters. The legendary king and warrior, Oranmiyan is recently deceased, but he has left a vital part of himself behind, in the person of his widow Moremi (Eseosa Eguamwense,) a commanding, yet loving presence.

In an early demonstration of Moremi’s compassionate spirit and sense for equality, the queen mother comes to the rescue of local market women who are being crushed under the weight of the heavy taxes imposed by the palace, aided by the indifference to their plight of the Iya L’oja. Moremi easily dislodges the reigning Iya l’oja and takes her place as the queen of hearts.

Good times, they never last though and the people of Ife find themselves living in fear of weed smoking marauders who attack the village at intervals, with the aim of kidnapping the women folk. The king is useless, so are his trusted advisers. The gods point to a solution; a consultation with the crafty goddess, Esimirin, loathed for her wicked trickery and knack for driving a hard bargain. No man wants to go on this dangerous path, but Moremi, brave heart that she is, accepts the challenge.

Segun Adefila who founded the Crown Troupe twenty years ago has been passionate about making theatre and performance arts available to all cadres of Nigerians, brings some of his trademarks to this particular production. In updating Moremi for the times, he tries for gimmicks that are all too relatable to contemporary audiences.

It is in the lingo that the characters adopt, taken straight from the lips of pop culture icons like Olamide. It is in the divine seers who make use of ICT to connect with the otherworldly beings. It is in the costumes and props; hip and modern items that point to the story’s ability to bend to fit into any time period.

Adefila’s Moremi is a clash of ideologies between young and old, parents and their children seeking their own answers to life’s common challenges. When Moremi visits Esimirin and barters the life of her only son as sacrifice, the man child, Oluorogbo (Uche Enechukwu) despises his mother for making such a promise without even stopping to consult him ab initio. Oluorogbo sees this decision not as supreme maternal sacrifice for the common good, but as the self- serving instincts of a vain glorious leader.

The play may bear the name of the mythic heroine as title, but Arigbabu does not commit to a character study plumbing the depths of Moremi’s psychology. As such there is no interest on the part of the writer, nor Mr Adefila in grappling with the demons that would pursue a woman to take such careless risks with her future.

What is on offer is a rather competent if undercooked song and dance ensemble that gives agency to several characters and ensures there isn’t a particular scene stealer. The singing could have been better practiced and the dancing less clumsily arranged but the physical stunt work, especially in the climactic scene makes for some refreshing viewing.

The songs are a mix of traditional, folksy material with Afrobeat influenced mash ups. The actors are quite energetic and make up for their polish with the energy with which they approach their work. Costumes are not elaborate but maintain a color coded pleasantness that add some splash to an otherwise sparse production.

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