It was Harold Pinter, the English playwright, who once remarked that human beings are masochists by nature, and therefore a perceptive playwright must know how to tease his/her audience by penning plays that subvert the audience’s expectations. Flowing from this thinking, the question I’m trying to answer here is, could Emir Sanusi: Truth in Time by Ahmed Yerima have been staged any better?
Truth In Time is a three-hander that employs a simple plot device of storytelling which is interspersed with flashback scenes to tell the not-too-intricate intrigues that led to the removal of Emir Lamido Sanusi as the 14th Emir of Kano in 2020.
As a brief background to my attendance of this interesting production, I had unavoidably missed the Duke of Shomolu’s double bill, Aremu, and Awo, written and directed respectively by Ahmed Yerima and Makinde Adeniran, but had the fortune of seeing Baba Kekere about the late elder statesman, Lateef Jakande, written and directed by the latter, which I enjoyed tremendously. So, it was really with excitement that I went to see the second performance on Sunday the 7th of August, 2023, of Truth in Time.
According to Yerima in the programme note that accompanied the performance that I saw at the 350-seater Agip Recital Hall at MUSON Centre, what triggered the writing of the play was the prayer that Emir Sanusi was quoted to have said soon after he was installed Emir in 2014: “Oh Allah, I want to die on the throne”. Why would a newly installed monarch pray such a prayer? The writing of the play thus became a quest for the Professor of theatre cum playwright to provide his audience with a creative rationale for such an unusual prayer.
In other words, the play is a creative attempt to capture on stage the stark reality of an Emir whose prayer goes unanswered having been dethroned as an Emir six years after his installation, the same fate which befell his grandfather who was also dethroned after being the Emir of Kano for ten years. The telling, rather than the realistic depiction of the dethronement of Emir Sanusi, was adjudged too simplistic for a number of audience members with whom I saw the play. In their view, the play is too simple for such a complex character as Emir Sanusi.
Regardless of the fact that the play did not fly the kite of a cross-section of the audience who were expecting a much more spectacular realistic piece of theatre, Emir Sanusi: Truth in Time made history by being the first to open simultaneously in Lagos and Abuja on Saturday the 6th of August and has, in my humble view, succeeded in presenting us with another kind of documentary theatre that is worthy of our attention.
With a carefully constructed dialogue peppered with some really funny one-liners, the play opens with Dahiru, who used to work as a palace guard for Sanusi’s grandfather when he was an Emir, narrating to Zainab, the woman who is employed to take care of him, the bad dream he has of a woman dragging the ownership with him of his son whose return he is expecting during the course of the play.
As the play unfolds, it turns out that the fire-brand Zainab is actually the secret wife of Dahiru and the mother of his only son, Sabiu, but has never been in a position to reveal either of these dual identities, having been sworn into secrecy with a Quran by Dahiru forty years earlier. When Sabiu returns home, we get to know that like his father he also works as a palace guard and therefore a witness to how Emir Sanusi was dethroned. But aside from telling the tale of the removal of Emir Sanusi, Sabiu ultimately finds out the true identity of Zainab and ends up liberating his mother from the oath to which she was sworn. So the play is essentially a simple, perhaps simplistic family drama which uses the removal of Emir Sanusi as its focal point.
While the three actors who respectively played the parts of Dahiru, Sabiu, and Zainab were at the top of their game, the energy of Victor Coker who played the part of Sabiu was palpable and May Efe Okanigbe’s Zainab was compellingly measured. The strong nine-piece Hausa band which provided the authentic music for the opening glee as well as the relevant music and sound effects at auspicious moments during the course of the play helped to turn the stage documentary into a ‘total theatre’ with Biodun Abe’s clever multimedia set as an appropriate and effective backdrop.
All in all, it was a worthwhile evening at the theatre even though the performance would perhaps have been richer for it had Yerima not directed it himself or had he mastered the art of locking the playwright out of the rehearsal room while directing his own plays as Soyinka claims to have learned how to do.
Bisi Adigun (Ph.D.), a Senior Lecturer of Theatre and Performance at Bowen University, Iwo, is a playwright, director/producer, and the founder of Arambe Productions, Ireland. He will be a frequent contributor to Bookartville.com.