National Troupe’s The Bridge: Signposting a new era in pragmatic theatre

Posted: October 4, 2012 in arts/culture

A more appropriate choice of theatre presentation for the rather low-key 52nd Independence Anniversary celebrations of the country which took place last Monday, October 1, could not have bettered the National Troupe of Nigeria’s The Bridge play productions.

Written and choreographed by Director of Dance at the National Troupe, Mr. Arnold Udoka, the musical dance, drama performance titled; The Bridge, aptly epitomised the mood and spirit of the National Day celebrations which commenced Saturday, September 29, at the weekend at the Cinema Hall 2 of the iconic edifice, the National Theatre, Iganmu, Lagos, and which encouragingly drew a large audience of theatre enthusiasts from around the state.

The one hour presentation by the National Troupe cast addresses fundamental issues of political mistrust, socio-economic imbalance and cultural and religious intolerance that have for long challenged the corporate existence of the national entity called Nigeria and symbolised by fictional Tanfo, a metropolis described as having failed and with a high level of insecurity, corruption, civil strife, rancour and power struggle among the people, just to add to the mix.

In the Bridge, Tanfo had become a microcosm of Nigeria and no-go area for any hopeful and positive mind, hence, the anguish when a young man is promoted to the post bank manager and then posted to Tanfo.

He is dissuaded by his wife and kinsmen from reporting at his new station because Tanfo is a failed metropolis.

He resolves to go to Tanfo to make a change. He arrives Tanfo to witness all the greed and avarice associated with power play. At the end, he intervenes and is able to resolve the peoples’ differences. He brings a new order which ensures that everybody is given the same opportunity as the other. The desired new order of peace and harmony is enthroned in Tanfo.

The Bridge is a metaphorical interplay of chaos and peace, struggle and attainment, denial and opportunity, inequality and equality, disunity and unity, negative and positive, and others, usually associated with the challenges of nationhood and mutual existence.

The production thrives on the potent use of dance, songs and music as instruments of national re-orientation and transformation. It is an experiment in inter-cultural communication, enlightenment, education and entertainment.

In pointing the way forward therefore, the National troupe uses the theatre to proffer a solution to the country’s myriad of problems, by enjoining the average Nigerian to seek to serve as that bridge for national unity.

For Mr. Martin Adaji, the Chief Executive office and Artistic Director of the National Troupe of Nigeria, this play has become imperative in the face of present-day happenings and also because art must not be just art’s sake but also serve socio-cultural/economic relevance in everyday society.

That it has become imperative for Nigerians to bridge the huge gap that separates the citizens from reason and patriotism, the National Troupe believes it therefore auspicious to use education and entertainment on the occasion of Nigeria’s 52nd Independence Anniversary ‘to spread this message of peace, tolerance, and mutual existence to break the yoke of terrorism and bloodletting in the land.’

According to Adaji, this play and others that the troupe have presented in recent times all come under the same theme and direction that art in general and theatre in particular should begin to serve as tool for social change, and not for its sake.

“The National troupe should use the platform provided by the theatre to attempt to promote national unity, create a conducive environment for socio-cultural and economic growth to succeed in the country. It’s not we are not going to feature the entertainment aspects of the presentations, we would but the fact remains that the theatre has a lot more work to do than just entertain. This is area we’ll soon be embarking on,” Adaji noted in a recent media briefing.

Although, it is unusual for a theatre company to toe the path of civil advocacy, it is however, as many have noted, that the national troupe must shed the toga of government apparatus to assume the platform of the apex performing arts company by way leading in proactive and pragmatic theatre productions.

The National Troupe therefore under Adaji attempts to shrug off the school of thought which holds that art’s primary duty is for entertainment, hence, art for art’s sake. And The Bridge serves as that auspicious example to signpost that new direction in Nigerian theatre practice, which could translate into realism.

Art for art’s sake, is a slogan translated from the French l’art pour l’art, which was coined in the early 19th century by the French philosopher Victor Cousin. The phrase expresses the belief held by many writers and artists, especially those associated with Aestheticism, that art needs no justification, that it need serve no political, didactic, or other end.

First performed in snippets for the Africa First Ladies’ conference two months ago in Abuja which was hosted by Dame Patience Jonathan, the Independence presentation is the expanded one hour version complete with musical accompaniment and Efik traditional dance feature.

A special performance by master xylophonist Udo Mariam (Chief) from Akwa Ibom as well as classic highlife renditions by Osezua Stephen-Imobhio provided highlights of the evening which was chaired by art collector and gallery owner, Chief Frank Okonta


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