For one night only Oladipo Agboluaje’s political satire of Nigerian politics came to Leeds and the theatre filled predominantly with students ready for an evening of humour. Although advertised as a comedy it is fair to say that generally we learned more than we laughed, which was unexpected yet did not diminish the success of the play.
‘New Nigerians’ follows the story of Greatness Ogholi as he runs for Nigerian presidency. This character exhibits eerie similarities to figures in British politics (Jeremy Corbyn comes to mind especially) and his passion for reform resonates strongly with a student majority audience.
The real feat of the play laid in its intelligent and playful take on the Nigerian political system. As a story based on real events within Nigerian politics, the script radiated criticism of tactical moves and personal pressures that appear beneath the surface of political parties. Here is where the satire really came into play; both the organisations and the characters were centred on true Nigerian politics and were subtly parodied by the writing and the effective direction of Rosamunde Hutt. It is obviously a topic which the writer is extremely passionate about and you could sense this in every well chosen word. I wish I had more prior knowledge of Nigerian politics beforehand as this context was crucial to understanding the plot at times, something I found it hard to grasp throughout the long scenes of politically centred dialog.
Indeed, an understanding of the context was also fundamental to the humour of the play and without it much was sadly lost. A substantial amount of comedy came from the replication of a very specific political system, and for audience members who were not in-the-know (which I imagine was the majority) the humour was less accessible and thus the clever satirisation fell flat. There were obvious moments of humour scattered throughout which were sure-fire ways to get a laugh, such as slapstick fights and the attitude of sassy Chinasa. These were effective, but for me there was not enough to grant the play its marketed title – I would be much more likely to explain it as a political play rather than a comedy.
Commendation must be given to the the three actors who all performed excellently, especially Marcy Dolapo Oni. Multi-roling as the female characters, Oni had perfect comedic timing and an impeccably commanding stage presence. There was also a feeling of great understanding between Oni and the roles she was playing. She conveyed not only the humour of the script perfectly but also the emotional levels of the characters – for example the difficulties faced by a woman attempting to succeed in politics or the underappreciation felt by the partner of a job-obsessed politician.
New Nigerians is a clever piece of theatre. Despite the niché and occasionally limiting nature of the humour, it was an informed and educating play, warmed throughout by the writer’s clear passion for his subject.
Image Courtesy of Workshop Theatre