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The Lion@89… from his stage and screen ‘jewels’

(Adapted from: From his stage and screen mentees, garlands for Kongi at 89, by Shaibu Husseini, published in The Guardian, July 15)

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Prof. Wole Soyinka

NOBEL Laurette Prof Wole Soyinka clocked 89 on July 13. To mark the day and as a special shout out to the arts and literary icon, some of his mentees and those who consider him a role model speak about their most memorable performance of a play written by the playwright, poet, essayist and dramatist that they have performed

Clarion Chukwura

Award-winning actress Clarion Chukwura
The most memorable play by Prof Soyinka that I have done is ‘Camwood On The Leaves’. It was written in 1969 but I featured in the 1982 production of the play staged at the National Arts Theatre. I consider the production my most memorable because it was my breakthrough play that introduced me to the Creme d’ la Creme of the Nigeria Theater Society. I got accolades from important personalities and media houses such as Jab Adu, Dr. Ola and Mrs Francois Balogun, Barr. and Barr. Mrs Fred Agbeyegbe, Sunday Times, National Concord Newspapers and others. Also, the original cast for the role Yemi in Ola Balogun’s film ‘Money Power’ was dropped and the role offered to me. My playing the lead role in ‘Camwood…’, got me to be managed by Wale Fanu of Cinekraft who got me on to ‘Mirror In The Sun’, Nigeria’s foremost network soap opera which in turn made me a household name in 1984. And the movie ‘Money Power’ also made me the first Nigerian Actress to Win Best Actress at the 1984 FESPACO in Burkina Faso. It was also on the strength of my performance in ‘Camwood…’ that Uncle Fred Agbeyegbe offered me the role of King Omajuwa in his maiden Play ‘The King Must Dance Naked’, in 1983. Also Cicely Tyson visited Kongi and came to see our rehearsal in Ife.Prof. Wole Soyinka introduced me to her and she left me a word that became a career propeller for me, ‘ you remind me of myself when I acted in Roots. The Sky is only the beginning for you.’ For me, Kongi is synonymous with whatever I became in my career because his play was my launch pad. In my private life, at less than 18 years old, he impacted me with the courage I needed when I was faced with taking what turned out to be the most important decision of my life. I will never forget what he stands for in my life. Congratulations to us all for Kongi at 89, Thank You, Kongi. I wish this generation has another KONGI.

Richard Mofe Damijo in a suit Photo Serious Mata
Richard Mofe Damijo

Stage and screen actor Richard Mofe Damijo:
My most memorable play with Professor Soyinka has to be ‘From Zia, With Love’. I think it’s reputed to be his first major play after the Nobel Prize. Performance was in Italy, I think at the Dionysian Festival, around 1993. It was an awesome play. I played one of the leads. Uncle Tunji Oyelana was in the cast. It was just an amazing production and I enjoyed myself. I was ill for a little bit and Prof. handled me professionally. This is just to say a Happy birthday to one of the most important names in Africa, world literature! Happy birthday.

Actor and Producer Francis Onwochei:
I have been privileged to feature in Soyinka’s works. In my formative years I played Samson in The Road as directed by late Bassey effiong at Anansa Playhouse in 1986. I recall that Charles Ukpong and Segun Arinze featured in the play. Same period I also participated in Kongis Harvest as directed by Akpor Otebele and Kunle Adeyemo where I played Barman. It was performed at main bowl of National Theatre Lagos. Shortly before Prof Bayo Oduneye was appointed Artistic Director National Troupe of Nigeria in 1991, I played Joseph in his direction of Death and the Kings Horseman. Tunde Euba was Mr Pilkins and Femi Ogunjobi played Elesin Oba. Later this month, I will be playing Dep Commissioner in a feature film adaptation of The Man Died produced by Femi Odugbemi and directed by Prof Awam of NYU. I think the most memorable for me will be Death & The Kings Horseman because I found it so immersive in poetry, and firmly rooted in our culture. I salute and congratulate Prof Wole Soyinka at 89 and still waxing strong. Hearty celebrations sir.

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Yemi Solade

Agba Akin Yemi Solade:
I played the character Lakunle in ‘Lion And The Jewel’ as produced by the Theatre Company of the Department Of Dramatic Arts, University Of Ife (OAU), and as directed by Segun Akinbola who later became the Paramount Ruler and Aladeokun of Alade Idanre in Ondo State. Play production was in 1985. I recall Kola Oyewo played the character – Baroka, with seasoned actors like Yinka Ige, late Laide Adewale and other members of the acting company playing different roles. Playing Lakunle in ‘Lion And The Jewel’ stands very memorable for me because of the quality of cast and the thematic concern of the drama piece. It is a dialectical satire on the issue of dowry or bride price. Happy 89th Birthday KONGI. I thank you for letting me drink from your cup of scholarly and artistic brewery. You remain ONE… THE ONLY WỌLÉ ṢÓYINKÁ. BÀBÁ… ẹ̀ẹ́ tún bọ̀ pé pé bí ÒKÈ OLÚMỌ ÀṢẸ

Stage and screen actor and documentarist Soibifaa Dokubo:
The most memorable Prof Wole Soyinka play I have been lucky to be a part of is, ‘The Strong Breed’, produced by the National Troupe of Nigeria and directed by Prof Ahmed Parker Yerima. The play for me captured the essence societal responsibility–the voluntary or imposed sufferer of bearing the burden. To the man who is imbued with the burden of a Pathfinder, more knowledge, more wisdom.

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Charles Ukpong

Stage and screen actor and writer Charles Ukpong:
My first encounter with Soyinka plays was in the early years of late Bassey Effiong’s Anansa Playhouse, where I featured in leading roles in ‘The Lion and the Jewel’, ‘Trials of Brother Jero’ and particularly in ‘The Road’. I would later, in 2001, encounter Soyinka, the spirit, the Man when I attended a closed audition of select actors for Soyinka’s play – King Baabu. A collaboration of Nigerian-British-Swiss Creatives, King Baabu, produced by Niggi Popp and it featured actors such as late Wale Ogunyemi, Tunji Oyelana, Tunji Sotimirin, and Yours truly. Before now, I had thought that my performance as Professor in ‘The Road’ was the most challenging until I was cast to play multiple roles in ‘King Baabu’ which was directed by Prof himself. In the 30days of rehearsal tucked away in ASCON Badagry as well as the one month of performances in Lagos, Ibadan, Benin, Zurich and Dusseldorf, I shared the same space – dine, wine, work – with Prof. I met for the first time in my career the very humorous WS, the stern but disciplined WS and ultimately, the humane WS. It was a fulfilling moment for me as an actor. As he ages gracefully with every inch towards 90, he is like a fine wine; but more interestingly; like onions, as you peel each layer, the more you encounter the humanity that encapsulates the spirit-man, Soyinka. At 89 and beyond it, may the Spirit that propels Soyinka the Man transcend immortality. Best wishes on your birthday Eni-Ogun.

Veteran stage and screen actress Lara Akinsol
One of the memorable Wole Soyinka plays I have participated in is ‘The Lion and the Jewel’ produced by the Thespian Family Theatre around 2019. It was directed by Femi Oke. It was memorable because of what we had to go through to get it done. It was performed at Freedom Park and the cast was well put together. Another would be ‘Death and the King’s Horseman’ produced by the National Troupe in 2016. That too was memorable. For Wole Soyinka, I wish him the best! More life, in good health.

Norbert Young
Norbert Young

Stage and screen actor Norbert Young
The first Wole Soyinka play I did was ‘Trials of Brother Jero’. It was a class project at the University of Ibadan supervised by the late Dapo Adelugba. I played the role of Brother Jero. It was directed by Sola Fosudo in 1984, and Sunny Ohilebo played Chume, while Becky Musa played the quarrelsome woman. That was the first. Subsequently, I did ‘Bacchae of Euripides’ as directed by Saidat Odofin with the late Ajayi Olatide playing Pentheus and Tunde Euba playing Tiresias. I also participated in ‘Death and the King’s Horseman’ directed by the late Jide Ogungbade. There was Tunde Euba and Jahman Anikulapo in the cast. I played HRH. These were the Wole Soyinka’s plays that I have taken part in. They were beautiful and I enjoyed them. You must see that most of them were projects we did in school except the one directed by Jide Ogungbade for Professor Soyinka’s 60th birthday in 1994 which was staged at the National Theatre. To Prof, I will say cheers to more life, in good health.

Stage and screen actor Jude Chukwuka
The one and only Wole Soyinka’s play that I’ve been involved in is the Trial of Brother Jero and it’s an adaptation for film by Ladi Akinyosoye. The project was done last year. It is memorable because I have always wanted to act in Wole Soyinka’s plays but I never had the opportunity. This was the only one and I relished it. Happy birthday Kongi at 89. The Yorubas say ‘Igba odun, odun kan o’ meaning ‘may 200 years seem like one year’. And look, you are now 89! May you live longer than this, sir!

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