By MCPHILIPS NWACHUKWU
This piece is a three part review of Chris Anyaokwu’s latest dramatic offering titled , Beyond the Wall and Other Plays. The 216 pages trilogy from the stable of Hybun Publications International, Lagos is both interesting and challenging in many ways.
The interest lies in the fact that the leading play in the collection, Beyond the Wall, which is the focus of our review is a product of theatre workshop with the playwright’s 2010, first year students of the Department of English , University of Lagos.
The play, which had its premier production at the university’s Art Theatre is one play to be taken seriously given the fact that the playwright consciously or unconsciously situated his dramatic composition within the dramatic and theatrical contexts of J P Clark’s dramaturgy.
The comparative affinity with Clark’s dramaturgy, especially with his well known play, Song of A Goat is germane to extent that many scholars of Clark’s have not succeeded in locating that energetic work within any known generic categories.
In the same way, Anyokwu’s Beyond the Wall defiles all form of dramatic categorisation and in same vein with the work of the work of his fatherly clansman, Clark, can only be ranked in the realm of such dramatic works identified by C.Hugh Holman as “bourgeois drama”.
Bourgeois drama , according to Holman,” is a term applied in plays in which the life of the common folk and the middle class rather that of the of the courtly or the rich is depicted”.
As some of the defining features of bourgeois plays, much of its popularity is dependent on the characterisation, and in defiance of the conventional concept of classical tragedy, it deals with the lives of middle class protagonists rather the noble and rich.
Interestingly too, characters in bourgeois drama are often victims of their environment, their society as well as their psychology or heredity.
The play as stated by the playwright “ provides a veritable platform to re-enact life, with its thrills, encompassing both the noble and the foibles”. As a bourgeois play, the text engages a simple but complex life phenomenon: the concept of duality of being of which is very prevalent in many unscientific societies, especially in Africa.
Set in the Bini area of Edo State of Nigeria, Anyaokwu’s dramaturgy exploits this widely held belief and appropriates it to the level of an interesting philosophical debate with the view to determining the logicality and illogicality of the subject of duality of existence widely believed in both religious and traditional faiths in many societies.
The characters in the play are typical bourgeois dramatic characters, who perform roles that are appropriate to their low level domestic status. They include students, school teacher and junior police officers. Odion and Igho are police officers, Oziegbe, Ejije and Aisha are students. There are also a doctor and a nurse. These are the dramatic characters that pupil the idyllic world of the play.
There is no clearly defined tragic character of superlative proportion as to place the play in the genre of tragedy. Despite its tacit allusions to death as it has to do with the dual character of Ovobokhan and Ejije and constant recitation of dirge as some form of emotional elixir, all the characters are proletariats struggling to make ends meet.
Issues addressed in the play are also domestic and proletariatian in the nature. Essentially, they have to do with issues of welfare: economy, governance, ethnicism, infrastructural lack, religion, culture and all other kinds of socio cultural and geographical binaries that shape the character of many post colonial states.
In the tradition of all bourgeois plays, Beyond the Wall has a very realistic setting and captures in its ambivalence the dynamics of a vibrant rural community infused with songs, love and lack. And to the credit of the playwright, he succeeds in weaving these dynamics beautifully in the writing of this existential drama which seeks meaning between the real and the imagined.