The Arts

May 1, 2023

NTN reviving play reading with Beggar’s Opera

NTN reviving play reading with Beggar’s Opera

By Prisca Sam-Duru

It was a major come back for the National Troupe of Nigeria, NTN, when it resumed hosting its Play Reading Sessions, after five years break.
Held recently at the National Arts Theatre Marquee, Iganmu, Lagos, the 32nd in the series of the drama programme had in attendance, thespians and other stakeholders in the industry. The Play Reading Session was institutionalised in 2001 in furtherance of one of the National Troupe’s mandate towards encouraging creativity to achieve excellence in the performing arts.

The 32nd edition chaired by Professor Tunji Azeez, featured renowned drama director, Makinde Adeniran’s play, ‘Beggar’s Opera’. The Play Reading Session had guests enjoying an exciting dramatisation of excerpts of the play as well as its open reading by thespians. ‘Beggar’s Opera’ is a socio-political drama inspired by the travails of rights activists during the General Sani Abacha military regime. During that time, a good number of the activists fled the country to avoid being caught by the dictator’s henchmen.

For starters, the playwright Adeniran, said the drama programme was capacity building for him, noting that the exposition of the Session has had its impact in the audience. The broadcaster and creative director boasts of notable plays like; Death and the Horsemen; Who’s Afraid of Solarin; Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat, Ajantala and Odun-Ifa, Others include Ola Rotimi’s The Gods Are Not to Blame, Zulu Sofola’s Wedlock of the Gods, Muje-Muje, A Resting Place (Festina, 2004), Opera Wonyosi (MUSON Festival, 2005), Jesus Chris Superstar, Saro, Taxi Driver, Aremu, and Awo the Musical.

In response to comments from the audience after the reading session, Adeniran who is also the current Secretary General of the National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners (NANTAP), revealed that he was inspired by his ordeal during his days in exile, during the Abacha junta.

According to him, “I was part of the people in exile with Prof. Wole Soyinka. I was the youngest. I didn’t plan for it. It was a mistake that they took me along. I went to perform a play, and ended up as one of those who wouldn’t come back home. “So I was caught up in that confusion. I saw Soyinka, Fawehinmi and others running all over the place, thinking they were fighting. I saw all of us as beggars. At that time, if any of them was killed, they would have said they were old enough to die.

“But, if I was killed, I was a young man, who was so confused and looking at those great personalities running all over the place, beggars like me, I wasn’t sure we could get out of it. So, the pain and anger informed this play.

“I write most of my plays as an intervention. They are informed by the situations I see. I write them and walk away, because, the moment I have done that, I release myself of that burden. “It was also an attempt for me to speak in Yoruba to the global audience. I spoke in Yoruba from the beginning of this script till the end. My thoughts were deep. This play is my account of that period in exile.

“The characters in this play reflect Wole Soyinka, Gani Fawehinmi, among others; and the ‘Apocalypse’ character is me, who had nothing to say but to observe. Its my way of capturing history.”

The Artistic Director of the National Troupe of Nigeria, Dr. Ahmed Mohammed Ahmed, earlier disclosed during his opening remarks that he involved academics and theatre practitioners to critique ‘Beggar’s Opera’ professionally in the presence of the playwright such that the National Troupe would be proud to put it on stage.

Ahmed who expressed delight that the Play Reading is back, promised that the agency would ensure the revival of the session.

In his words, “Play Reading Session promotes good literary works of Nigeria across the country and beyond, it gives good contextual feelings of the works of the playwrights. It is as important as the acting itself because it reveals the real mind of the writers while providing an expository text in works of playwright for theatre critics and experts, so that they can suggest how the play can be improved upon.”

Ahmed who further stated that bringing back Play Reading was part of the mandate of the agency, said, “What we do is to make the writers understand the techniques of writing plays from the perspective of bringing academicians to analyse and make informed comments. “This is what we want to be seeing and it is part of the NTN budget approval. So, we hope in the year, we will ensure that we have play reading every quarter.”