How Nigeria Became is set at the time of Nigeria’s formation in 1914, and tells the story of a troupe of performers encouraged to stage an inaugural celebration of their newly forged national identity for the British Governor. Incorporating folklore and traditional dance, the ensemble explore what it means for a diverse array of cultural identities to be brought together under one flag.
This production is a tidy piece of work – visually rich, evenly paced, confidently staged and with an unfussy script that still manages to feel smart and original. There is a tangible sense of every performer being in control, as they find unlikely laughs (the solving of a riddle is as satisfying as a short stretch?), and are able to discover ways of interacting with the audience without interrupting the narrative flow. If anyone is to be singled out, it has to be Tunji Falana. His performance is as effortless as it is nuanced, and his comic timing is spot on.
My concern is that this show breezes through the grey areas. The dubious role of having a white English male as arbiter is acknowledged, but hardly explored – and, again, Boko Haram only briefly alluded to. This might seem like an unfair criticism of a children’s show – but Gbolahan Obisesan’s production asks to be taken seriously. It takes on the ambitious task of reckoning a century of history in order to ask where Nigeria stands today: it does so without patronizing, and at the same time without ever seeming dull. My one wish is that Obisesan had taken the next step – and provoked.