True test of love they say is sacrifice and in times of war, sacrifice is an important rudiment of victory. This is well captured in Wole Oguntokun’s premiere of the theatre play ‘Legend of Moremi Ajaasoro’ in conjunction with MUSON. Set in the ancient kingdom of Ile-Ife, the play narrates the brave sacrifice of a young woman’s undying love for her husband and his people. Originally from Offa, Moremi’s heart easily warmed to the people of Ile-Ife.
The play is plotted on the premises of the tragedy that plagued Moremi after she discovered the secrets of the Ugbo people who raided and terrorized the people of Ile-Ife. The revelation of their secret weaponry by Moremi led to their defeat. Though warned by her beloved husband, Oranmiyan not to carry out her espionage plans, Moremi sought the help of the gods with a promise to make a costly sacrifice if victorious. She allowed herself to be captured by the Ugbo warriors during one of their raids and would later be the wife of the king of Igbo. After the people of Ile-Ife conquered their longtime enemies, Moremi returned to the Esimirin shrine to fulfil her promise to the gods. It never occurred to her that the gods would demand for her only son Ela.
Thus, till date, Edi festival is celebrated in Ile-Ife as a hopeful wish that Ela, the son of Moremi would return someday to reap the fruits of her labour. Shown at the MUSON centre recently, Renegade theatre’s efforts to celebrate one of the festival deities in the Yoruba kingdom was not a complete waste as the play lived up to its expectations.
The stage was appropriately set in a traditional design, setting the mood for the audience to travel back in time and relive the sacrifices made by a courageous woman. The transition from each scene was seamless carrying the audience along in its crescendo pace.
Starting off with the rabble rouser played by Precious Anyanwu who bickered endlessly to the annoyance of his fellow soldiers, was a bit lengthy and could have been boring if not for the quick switch to the narrator played by Sunkanmi Adebayo accompanied by mournful citizens of Ile-Ife. Onwards, the play transcends to a flashback where the audience captured the beginning of the love tale.
The stage manager, Anike Alli-Hakeem made good effects of its lighting by dimming the lights during mournful scenes and lighting up the stage in stronger scenes. The costumes used were mostly traditional attire peculiar to the Yoruba tribe. A fog effect was also used to signify the presence of Esimirin, the god of Ile-Ife.
The play’s director, Wole Oguntokun really scouted for the best cast to bring action into this drama. Ajike, Moremi’s best friend which was played by Barbara Babarinsa stole the show away with her funny antics and undying devotion to her friend. Though quite a talker, she was admirable in her acts, and knew when to portray the expected character.
The lead character Moremi, which was played by Jumoke Ladi Bello, was also a strong one. Described as a brave young woman, one would expect the contemporary outright stubborn nature attached to bravery but in this case, Moremi was a blend of gentility, bravery and wisdom. For instance, she cleverly deceived her best friend Ajike and escaped into the battle field where she could easily be captured by the invisible Ugbo raiders. The audience was left to their imagination on how the Ugbo raiders defeated the people of Ile-Ife as only cries of defeat and victory could be heard, accompanied by vibrant dancing or mournful singing.
Oranmiyan (Rotimi Fakunle), Moremi’s husband on the other hand was a gentle warrior. Though very loving, he was highly strict and exudes this when he reprimanded Ajike for allowing his queen to leave the palace unguarded. He was a loving husband to his wife and a fearless commander in the battle field.
However, a weaker character in the cast was the king of Ugbo played by Austine Onuoha. As a terror to the people of Ile-Ife, one expected a very callous being or intimidating character. Despite this, he was still able to play his part well in his gentle manner.
The play drew themes from friendship, loyalty, sacrifice and ignorance as well. The people of Ile-Ife were mystified by the mask wearing of the Ugbo people, assuming that they were spirits who could not be defeated, not until Moremi returned with the secrets of the Ugbo marauders. This clearly depicts the fearful nature of mankind caused by naivety sometimes.
Ajike’s demise in the play was a very touchy one and rendered justice to the subject matter: love and sacrifice. In an attempt to save her friend from being caught by the Ugbo soldiers, Ajike had to stay back in the palace, pretending to be Moremi while her friend escaped to her beloved land, Ile-ife.
Another interesting feature of the cast are the Ile-Ife citizens. The synergy exuded by these characters was simply impeccable. They really executed the traditional approach of the director through their protestations and victory chanting. The music and dance performances by these characters were entertaining to say the least.
As much as the cumulative scenes reached its peak with the defeat of the Ugbo raiders after Moremi’s return to Ile-Ife, the narrator quickly snatched this feeling of happily -ever-after by announcing Moremi’s promise to Esimirin. A gleeful Moremi is seen dancing excitedly in the shrine as she presents gifts to the gods in appreciation of her victory only to be reminded of the demand of Esimirin of something very dear to her through a playback if she returns successfully from her sojourn. A heartbroken Moremi is consoled by her fellow women as she watched painfully as her only son Ela, is being kidnapped by the servant of death to Esimirin. This provoked a feeling of compassion and pity from the audience, and served as a wicked reminder of the wishes of mankind and the costly price they have to pay.