Day The Engagement was held in Soyinka Theatre
The iconic stage of the Wole Soyinka Art Theatre University of Ibadan came alive with the performance of ‘The Engagement’ a satire on marriage proposal written by Femi Osofisan. The performance which ran from the 26th to 27th of December 2021 was produced by the Government College Ibadan Class of ’89 and sponsored by a member of the set Pastor Olusegun Onayinka to honor the memory of his late father Gbegande Olusegun Onayinka an old boy of the school. The show was designed to bring families together during holiday seasons under the theme ‘GCI CLASS ’89 FAMILY DRAMA OUTING’.
It was not mere coincidence that a school renowned for having produced literary giants and very notable players in the Nigerian theatre and film industry will be leading the charge to revive theatrical performances not only in Ibadan but in Nigeria as captured in the words of the Executive Producer. The trajectory of this maiden outing lent a strong credence to the mission. The old boys of the school brought to the stage named after an iconic old boy of the school a play written by another global ambassador of the school.
In his welcome address, Chairman of the set, Tolulope Fadulu, recalled that students of GCI were well known for putting up stage plays which were greeted with applause. Tolulope Fadulu reflected that GCI had a very vibrant dramatic society founded in 1955 by the school’s principal at the time, the Briton Mr. J.D Bullock. The dramatic society incidentally had the late theater academic and director of the FESTAC ’77 stage play LANGBODO, Professor Dapo Adelugba as pioneer President. He further recalled that the dramatic society had the state of the arts theatre equipment and facilities.
The set’s Social Secretary/PRO, Samsideen Adesiyan, who directed and acted in the play said that it was selected due to its minimal cast and the theme it addressed. The Engagement, according to the director, addressed a very important issue which is as relevant today as it was many years ago when it was written. Adesiyan observed that the play provided an important insight into the basis of conflicts and crisis in marriages, noting that many go into the institution for some other reasons than love and compatibility.
The play opened with Chief Medayekan a retired army officer now turned farmer and pretentious musician and also the father of Ronke, a daughter long due for marriage, finetuning his new composition. Elemude, his farmer friend and singing partner, arrives to propose to Ronke. It is not only an unexpected request but an uneven match as both Elemude and Ronke do not do have anything in common except the need to find partners. Elemude at the time of making his intention known is already forty-two years old and bogged with several health crises due to the hard labour on the farm. Ronke, on the other hand, is a very educated woman, the local belle, who has also overstayed in her father’s house as a spinster. The Engagement is therefore a play about two desperate in individuals and a father eager to rid himself of his unmarried daughter.
Chief Medayekan the retired soldier was played by Gideon Oluwamonure, a graduate of Theatre Arts Ronke was played by Tomilola Ojelade a microbiologist who heeded the call of the stage and Samsideen Adesiyan, a graduate of Theatre Arts and lawyer played the role of Elemude the suitor.
Right away, it was obvious that the actors intended to thrill the audience with no holds barred. Elemude set the ball rolling with his scattered dance steps to the drumming and somewhat melodious tune by Chief Medayekan before declaring his intention with trepidation. To Elemude’s shock, Chief Medayekan was happy to have him as a suitor for his daughter and a prospective in-law. An eager Medayekan seized the moment to surreptitiously inform Elemude that he had long awaited the day when he will be man enough to come for Ronke as she had always been ‘in love’ with him. However, the task fell on Elemude to ask for Ronke’s hand personally. The task proved to be too enormous for the shy, clumsy and cantankerous Elemude. Elemude’s inability to hit the nail on the head at the first opportunity led to arguments between the two love birds about ownership of farm lands and who has the best hunting dog. A seemingly harmless argument soon led to insults and name-calling which pit the unwavering Elemude against Ronke and her father Chief Medayekan, although the two will eventually agree to be together.
The director exhibited a full grasp of the context of the play with the use of space, characters’ interpretations and colourful modulations of lines. Elemude’s costume reflected an over sophisticated ‘bush man’ anxious to please the local aristocratic lady. The actors’ mastery of their lines made for a smooth delivery which allowed the audience to follow the plot easily. For a comedy largely driven by pure English without the local inflection of pidgin, this was no mean task. Dialogues are the drivers of characterizations and actors using Queen’s English have the extra task of making it pleasant to the ears especially where the audience is one whose ears readily capture nuances in the local dialects.
The playwright, Emeritus Professor Femi Osofisan who was present at the performance in his remarks gave kudos to the actors and the GCI set for the initiative, noting that there is an urgent need to revive live performances, especially for the present generation who are growing up on cinema culture and social media skits. Echoing the same sentiment, Alhaji Oyewale Adesiyan, former Minister of Police Affairs said that he was thoroughly entertained and that the experience has changed his perspective about the theatre and live performances. Another old boy of Government College Ibadan, the veteran broadcaster and former Chief Executive Officer of Broadcasting Corporation of Oyo State, Mr. Yanju Adegbite said that the occasion brought nostalgic feelings and was reminiscence of his days as an actor under the tutelage of Professor Bode Sowande another old boy who runs the drama troupe- Odu Themes, just as Chief Tunde Odunlade, the renowned painter and theatre enthusiast who runs the Tunde Odunlade Arts and Connexions in Ibadan also noted that the experience afforded him the opportunity to relive old memories and hoped it will continue.