Healing. This is the emotional space the producers of the star-studded musical Ada Our Country created for many women at Shell Hall, MUSON last weekend in Lagos. For the men, it was a mixture of torture and awe to see each female character on stage reminisce about her life’s struggles through dramatic monologues and passionately sung lines that speak to themes of brotherhood, heartbreak, of the emancipation of women and humanity.
Directed by Kemi Lala-Akindoju and powered by Doyenne Circle Productions, the 100-actor show was a move from the screen to the stage for most of Nollywood’s popular faces in drama, namely Joke Silva, Tosin Adeyemi, Rikiya Graham-Douglass, Kate Henshaw, Chioma ‘Chigul’ Omeruah, Oluchi Odii, Imoh Eboh, Kemi Lala-Akindoju and Patience Ozokwor. A test of true artistry, the musical is built on the strength of each character’s acting and singing skills. With a romantic twist to the tale, the plot is an assemblage of women’s stories that are all too familiar: the abandoned girlfriend, the divorcee, the single mother, the working-class woman ambushed by toxic masculinity. and patriarchy in the workplace, as well as a grieving mother.
Written by award-winning poet and playwright Titilope Sonuga, Ada Our Country revolves around the main plot of Ada, a woman who suffers the terrible loss of her child in a fire. As a result, she becomes depressed. With the help of other women from two generations who have had their share of pain, she is able to heal and rekindle her marital bond with her husband.
Ultimately, the musical’s stories aren’t designed to upset men, but to help them understand the plight of women. Men have mothers, sisters, daughters and nieces, and they are aware of domestic violence against women, rapes, kidnappings and murders of young women, and a work culture that positions women women as second-class citizens, either through discriminatory pay structures or limited leadership positions for women.
Alongside Omeruah’s comic relief, actor-director, Lala-Akindoju, delivered a stellar performance on stage with her reverberating voice as she faced off against the protagonist’s antagonistic character, Ada. While Henshaw reinforced the delivery of lines sung by Silva with his own voice, it was clear that the style of performance was as much collaborative as it was complementary. The mothers-in-law, Silva and Ozokwor, gracefully took on the role of “elders in the room” – the much-needed intervention to set the record straight between feuding couples and rival siblings.
Although written in 2019, the piece rings true, especially in light of today’s vile culture of using social media to settle scores with spouses, ex-lovers, or famous siblings.
Using the power of choreographed dance interludes, music and beautiful costumes, the director helped reduce the fatigue that long monologues could bring to the audience. Perhaps the musical’s Achilles’ heel was the lighting. Ada’s marital home was poorly lit; most of the facial expressions to communicate the agony of the grieving couple have been lost but offset by the allure of the male voice – that of Ada’s husband – radiating from the upper chamber of the carefully constructed set. The multi-dwelling house was simple but purposeful, reviving the tradition of building sets through a careful technical interpretation of the plot.
At the curtain call, Marian Ogaziechi, the play’s executive producer revealed that she was inspired by Bolanle Austen Peters to pursue a career in acting. Her mother thought she was a failure when she dropped out of science to pursue acting. But the desire to tell her story to shape the future of women overcame the fear of displeasing her mother.
“I did this from an experience I had. I’m a theater artist. One of the ways we can reach people is through storytelling. I’ve found it there was a gap to reach the urban woman. It’s like they weren’t going through any issues – everything is rosy as you see online. One of the characters played my story. I felt it was time to share the experiences of every urban woman. From college to NYSC to the boardroom, women go through a lot. I believe everyone here can relate to the experiences of all the superb actors we showed,” she said.