By Uzor Maxim Uzoatu
50 Years Of Solo Performing Art In Nigerian Theatre: 1966-2016 edited by Greg Mbajiorgu and Amanze Akpuda; Kraft Books Limited; Ibadan, Nigeria; 2018; 614pp
The commonplace belief is that drama or theatre, or a play, needs more than one actor because dialogue is the vehicle. Mere monologue without the needed action is seen as being neither here nor there. But then, there can be a gifted actor who takes the stage by storm, playing multiple roles. The intellectual gravitas of the one-person actor – call it solo performance or monodrama – has been given pride of place in this original book 50 Years Of Solo Performing Art In Nigerian Theatre: 1966-2016 edited by Greg Mbajiorgu and Amanze Akpuda.
The lead editor of the book, Greg Mbajiorgu, a resourceful actor, playwright, director, lecturer and solo performer performed his first monodrama, The Prime Minister’s Son, back in 1991 during his NYSC year. The co-editor, Amanze Akuda, the prolific professor of literature, theatre and film remarkably conducts an insightful interview with Mbajiorgu in which scholarly kinship takes monodrama back to Ancient Greece’s poet-player Thespis who “stepped forward from the chorus in 534 BC” or even to Homeric recitations and performances that pre-dated Thespis.
In the African scheme of monodrama, 50 Years Of Solo Performing Art In Nigerian Theatre is dedicated to: “Emeritus Professor Wole Soyinka who mentored the first crop of post-independence solo theatrical exponents in Nigeria – Betty Okotie and Wale Ogunyemi; Athol Fugard whose play-within-a-play technique pointed to the possibility that a full-blown Afro-oriented monodrama could be created in our continent; Dr Ene Henshaw and Professor Kalu Uka who supported and midwifed Nigeria’s first monodramatic experiment; Professor Dapo Adelugba who mentored and guided the emerging scholars of this radical art form and also supervised the first crop of post-graduate projects on the art of solo performance in Nigeria.”
The lack of attention paid to monodrama in Nigeria led to Greg Mbajiorgu being the celebrant and the fundraiser when he “muted the idea of organising a conference to mark the 48th anniversary of solo performing art in Nigeria” during his sabbatical year at Nigeria-Turkish Nile University, Abuja in 2014.
Mbajiorgu stresses: “With this Africa’s first major textbook on the art of Solo Performance being unveiled, we enter a new era in which academic neglect or disregard for the efforts of creative artistes must come to an end in our universities and elsewhere.”
It is remarkable that in his Foreword to 50 Years Of Solo Performing Art In Nigerian Theatre, Professor Amirikpa Oyigbenu quotes Peter Brooks’ classic The Empty Space thusly: “I can take any empty space and call it a bare stage. A man walks across this empty space whilst someone else is watching him, and this is all that is needed for an act of theatre to be engaged.”
Although divided into nine sections, 50 Years Of Solo Performing Art In Nigerian Theatre can be read seamlessly. The work of the late solo performer Funsho Alabi is justly celebrated. There are rich interviews with Greg Mbajiorgu, Tunji Sotimirin, Tunde Awosanmi, Inua Ellams, Benedict Binebai, Akpos Adesi and Mbem Ijele. The renowned theatre scholars and practitioners on parade include Kalu Uka, Emeka Nwabueze, Ben Tomoloju, Chimalum Nwankwo, James Onyebuchi Ile, Ahmed Yerima, Ademola Dasylva, Chijioke Ngobili etc.
50 Years Of Solo Performing Art In Nigerian Theatre: 1966-2016 edited by Greg Mbajiorgu and Amanze Akpuda is a stellar ground-breaking work. It deserves celebration.