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By Toyin Akinosho

Now we know, or don’t we?

Segun Adefila’s Dis_ Loyal Judas, a musical drama production described by the playwright as an Opera, has been one of those rare theatre performances playing in my head from time to time, since I saw it at the National Theatre in the Easter holidays of 2022.

Scheduled for the Glover Hall in the late afternoon of Sunday April 16, 2023, it ran two shows over Easter Sunday and Monday (April 9 & 10, 2023) .at the Freedom Park Amphitheatre on Lagos Island

Last year’s production was the premiere and I missed reviewing it; as a carefully thought-out piece inspired by an epochal, but often understated moment in the passion of Christ saga.

Pontius Pilate, played by Nathaniel Olawoyin, washes his hands off the stream of accusations

Playwright and director Segun Adefila’s full length drama piece challenges the central thesis of why Judas betrayed Jesus Christ when the Romans came for the Jew. And he told the story with Aladura songs, Apala flavoured music, Reggae style Rhumba, some highlife feeling and a plaintive Ewi chant.

I knew I wanted to re-experience Crown Troupe’s compelling sequence of songs, the play’s plot twists and turns, the casual yet highly symbolic costuming and the agit-prop type of dialogue, around which the story is developed.

I looked forward to an encore.

As this year’s Easter holidays loomed, I searched in vain for the play’s publicity material among the scores of promotional e-flyers announcing cultural shows for the long weekend.

I was thinking of writing a piece titled: Why is Dis _Loyal Judas Not on the Calendar? when I saw the e-poster for this year’s production. The first publicity materials came out barely 10 days to the holidays. The chances for any full house reception were dim.

The audience at the Freedom Park Amphitheatre on Easter Sunday was an infinitesimal proportion of the gathering at any of the four shows at the National Theatre in 2022.

They got him-Jesus, kneeling, heads bowed, with the captors

It helped that the play is interactive and the less than formal setting allowed banters from the floor.

As I wondered why the opening song had to be about the birth of Christ, the scene cut to the first appearance of the 12 disciples (who were actually six actors) and Jesus (Jubril Adewunmi) appeared early, in a flowing, white robe, his hair braided in dreadlocks.  

As Judas, Femi Akinde initially came across as someone afflicted with stage fright, but he grew comfortable in the role as the story developed. No, he’s not the most assertive actor in Lagos, but Crown Troupe’s communal production style is such that any weak link in the chain is strengthened by other links.

Why did Judas do it?

Why would Disciple Judas hand over The Master he cared so much for, to the people who wanted him dead?

Here’s a clue from Judas’ song in the play:

“Who can catch the wind”?

“Who can tie water with a rope”?

Glover Memorial.-an epochal venue for an epochal play

Adefila’s Judas was so sure that the 30Billion Naira bribe he received from the Romans to point Jesus to them was going to be a massive loss to the plotters. He had seen his Master walk on water and raise people from the dead. So how could anyone catch him?

‘You guys would think I scammed you”, he warned, apparently sure that Jesus would not be reined in.

Then he watched in disbelief as Jesus himself clearly turned himself in, even helping to nurse the injury inflicted on one of the Romans by Peter,(played by Ebuka Obianeri) one of the Disciples.

How would I know he would allow them to take him”?  Judas asked himself.

The Bible doesn’t say much about Judas-before and after the deed, other than that he took his own life. The widely held assumption is that humans are flawed and Judas was tempted by the money.

Interactive performance-actors charge into the audience

The director’s explanation, in the play’s e-brochure is that Judas was destined to betray the saviour, just as Jesus had been pre-destined to shed his blood to cleanse our collective sins.

But the play does not obey the playwright’s own statement in the e- brochure.

Like Adefila, I had been taught in mission schools in Lagos in the 1970s to read that part of the Passion story as a course of destiny.

I imagine that, in the course of writing the play, Adefila held on to that missionary school teaching, but by the time the script emerged, he had contradicted the received wisdom.

It reminds me of the response by the poet Uche Nduka one evening in the late 1980s when I asked him why he wrote a  poem the way he did. “This is what came”, he said. “I struggled, but that’s what they allowed”.

Outside of its response to an understanding of a significant biblical story, Dis_ Loyal Judas is a unique contribution to the evolving collection of musical drama in Lagos.

Since Uche Nwokedi shook the landscape with Kakadu the Musical in 2013, following the widely received Fela! Musical by American producers Bill T Jones and Jim Lewis, which drew crowds in the city, the default, full length, submissions by Lagos’s playwrights, directors and producers for holiday seasons like the Christmas, Easter, and Ramadan, has been the musical drama. There has been Bolanle Austen Peters’ Saro the Musical, Waka, Fela and The Kalakuta Queens and now Motherland the Musical.

But Adefila’s interpretation of the Judas-betrays- Jesus’ story is more than a mere data point in that genre’s growth trajectory in Nigeria’s biggest s city.

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