A review of Donna Ogunnaike’s Experimental Theatre Production; Strelitzia
I recollect the taste of baba dudu and sisi pelebe, choco milo and the race for agbalumo as a child. Whether sweets, fruits or candies, they always tasted heavenly. Seeing them as I was ushered into the gate of Strelitzia, a burst of emotions raced through me as I remembered my childhood.
At the door, there is a call to remember the past. A summon into Strelitzia, the idea that the past lies hidden in some part of the human memory, is an invitation to explore the depths of reminiscence. In the black and white-coated milieu which symbolises the mind, the patient -for that is what one should call the participants who enter this therapeutic abode- comes with a fraught mind about to undergo the surgery of unburdening.
In this piece that features a co-mingling of poetry, music and drama, the spectator is introduced to a light bearer who leads one into the five compartments that make up the process of exorcism of pain. In each enclave, there are symbols that remind one of the past; from old gramophones to big desk radios, projected images of history, old advertisements, and old songs that reverberate through the memory lane, one sees images of the past and nostalgia sets in. That exorcism is at once enhanced in the first closure where a man (Emmanuel Musa) undergoing the pain of sorrowful memory is not at peace with himself. Like the general mood in Gabriel Okara’s Piano and Drums, the audience can relate (an older audience is prescribed as children may be alienated from the surroundings especially with the horror-like atmosphere) and the themes are relevant to young and mature adults.
The silhouette compartment seems to re-assert in the mind of the observer, an examination of the inner self. There, the glaring question is; who are you when no one is watching? Technically, the screen should be more opaque so the audience can see just the silhouette and not the performer within.
Finally, in the fourth and last parts where one encounters the gate-keeper and the poet, the essence of the poet according to Aristotle, as an imitator and a creator, a medium between the unknown and known, is enforced. The audience meets the poet who intimates them with tales, trajectories of humanity and the contradictions that define our existence. At this point, the audience stands, broken and ready to experience total catharsis. This is achieved through the expression of oneself through the written medium and the washing of hands, like Potiphar, to let go and be reborn. Donna Ogunnaike’s whole ensemble (seeing that the setting is a moveable theatre that can be built to the peculiarities of any space) is at once captivating and liberating. The limited number of spectators fosters intimacy. For anyone who wants to experience freedom in its real sense, especially in this economic recession, Ogunnaike’s Strelitzia, and not a Shrink, is recommended.
Adeojo, Mosunmola Omowunmi is a budding young critic on her graduate programme at the University of Lagos. She is studying English Literature and is interested in movies, film and theatre criticism.