How Nigeria Became: A Story, and a Spear That Didn’t Work

By Flossie Waite
A Unicorn Production
Unicorn Theatre
9th October – 9th November 2014
Ages 8+

An audience of children is not usually a quiet one. Just last week, reviewing tutti frutti’s brilliant The Princess and the Pea, the little boy next to me spent the entire production asking his parents “Where’s the pea?” (When it finally appeared, he squeaked, “But what does it do?”) In How Nigeria Became, though there was a united gasp of utter delight when the live chicken on stage pooed, and an actor danced his way through it, I generally found myself laughing much louder and generally being noisier than the children around me, a sign that this hilarious show may be funnier for older ages.

It is one hundred years since Nigeria was formed, a beginning that writer and director Gbolahan Obisesan explores in How Nigeria Became. The play is about storytelling, and begins at the very beginning – with the creation of the earth by Oduduwa. This framing device is the least successful component of the production – hard to follow, it provides neither a coherent explanation or resolution. It’s once we get to Herbert and his theatre company that the play gets into the swing of things. Charles, the Colonial Messenger (Christian Roe) asks Herbert Ogunde (Tunji Falana) and his all-female troupe (Stephanie Levi-John, Rebecca Omogbehin and Rita Balogun) to put on a play celebrating the creation of Nigeria – something that demonstrates the cultural differences of the tribes, whilst bringing them neatly together. They choose to tell the story of the Spear of Shango – a mythical spear which brought prosperity to the kingdom of whoever held it. But its depiction of warring tribes is not positive enough for Charles, who insists on some major changes.

How Nigeria Became is hugely entertaining, filled with wonderful dancing and a musicality throughout. It’s very funny, the combination of a witty script and actors who load even the slightest movement with meaning and humour. But the play feels like it has conflicting ideas about what it is and what it wants to do. Just as the tale of the Spear of Shango is completely rewritten to end with unity, the narrative that the whole production seems to be following – that Charles is interfering in the story and forcing Herbert and the actresses to make changes that they don’t want – falls away as they all dance joyfully together at the end. Rather than this seeming like a positive resolution, it jars; up until this point the play has felt like it is dripping with meaning,  but this ending suggests I may have misread the signs. How Nigeria Became will give you face ache from smiling, but it’s easy to leave feeling you enjoyed it, but may have missed the point.

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