A Decade of Resonance: The enduring legacy of “Kakadu the Musical” — Terh Agbedeh
In the world of Nigerian theatre, the 10th anniversary of Kakadu the Musical stands as a milestone, marking a journey that began with its premiere in early 2013. Developed by the visionary writer and producer, Uche Nwokedi, the play exceeded expectations, earning recognition from the National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners (NANTAP).
Nwokedi, said in a recent interview that over the years, Kakadu has travelled to various places, evolving with each new cast chosen through rigorous auditions.
“It is an enduring production with an enduring theme,” he stated. “What I find most interesting is that the plot and its message continues to resonate through the years, with the central question – How do we build a nation? Each time we run we leave it to the cast to address that question. The plot continues to resonate throughout Nigeria, especially Nigeria today. It’s always relevant, always addressing our national consciousness; it’s enduring. It’s the kind of production that when you see it again, the historicity of it puts your mind on inquiry – ‘where are we now?’ Even now, as we are running it, we have seen other directions we could actually go if we wanted to. But we need to be careful to keep it simple and not to overstretch or extend too much. So, it’s an interesting production, and to be honest with you, when I wrote it, I didn’t think it would have this kind of impact on theatre in Nigeria. At the time it was just a fun project for my foundation – The Playhouse Initiative”.
Kakadu, he stated, is set to grace the stage once again at the Shell Hall, MUSON Centre, Lagos, on December 28th, 29th and 30th. While FirstBank primarily sponsors the production, through its support arm for the arts, First@Arts, and Kingmakers are also supporting, challenges stemming from a shrinking economy emphasise the need for substantial support and sponsors to maintain the quality of the show.
The unexpected success of 2013 and subsequent runs in Calabar, Davos in Switzerland and Jo’Burg in South Africa, introduced a new genre of theatre to the Nigerian stage. Notably, each run featured a fresh cast, selected through meticulous auditions, maintaining the play’s dynamism and relevance.
For the creator, the enduring satisfaction comes from the play’s ability to tackle the timeless question of nation-building.
What sets Kakadu apart is its nostalgic portrayal of the 1960s, vividly capturing the music and lifestyle of the era. This temporal journey prompts a perennial question after each viewing: “Where do we go from here as a nation?” This introspective query extends beyond Nigeria’s borders, striking a chord with audiences in South Africa who grapple with similar challenges in nation-building.
Despite the 10-year milestone, there’s been no sequel to Kakadu. The creator attributes this to the play’s strong spirit, holding everyone involved captive. The demands of a law practice and other writing projects, including the well-received memoir A Shred of Fear, have diverted attention. The juxtaposition of these two artistic pieces reflects the creator’s diverse expressions, each with a unique place in his heart.
“Kakadu is interesting in the sense that it’s a musical; there is a lot of music in it, so it gives a different look on things. So, we have another character. When you look at both works, you see very different characters who are united in their love for music. We underestimate the influence of music in our lives. If you look at Nigeria today and what kids like Burna Boy, Wizkid, Davido, Rema are doing, you will appreciate that they are our best ambassadors Nigeria has today and like our footballers and athletes they too should be encouraged, because anywhere you go in the world, they play Nigerian music. There is nothing that the government has done to get us that kind of PR. They have been the ambassadors in the universal acknowledgement of Nigerian talent. We must be very careful to nurture and promote that aspect of the arts,” he said.
Nwokedi however indicated that the possibility of a film adaptation for A Shred of Fear remains open, adding another layer to the creator’s artistic endeavours.
The cast of the current run of Kakadu, is an infusion of new talent and fresh perspectives. The evolving production promises a different experience for those familiar with the play, offering a renewed exploration of Nigeria’s history through the lens of the 1960s and the interpretations of a new generation of actors.
“We have a lot of younger people this time. A few of the people that went to South Africa with us are still with us. But we still auditioned. So we have a fresh cast and a combination of some of the young people and some of the older people makes it a very exciting cast, and they bring their own interpretation to the story, because each actor interprets the characters they play in their own way. Some people asked me, ‘why are you doing it again’, you’ve done it before’, and I said it’s the same Kakadu but a different production. Production-wise, it’s different. So anybody that saw it a few years ago and comes to see it now will be looking at a different show. I mean, we’ve worked on the music and improved, we’ve worked on the drama and improved, the staging will be somewhat different. And again, you see it through the eyes of these young people as well, who in their own way are trying to interpret what is going on in Nigeria. It’s a bit of a history lesson for these new actors as well. What was Nigeria like in the 1960s and what is it now? So they have to do their own research on what Nigeria was in the 60s and what it is now.
As Kakadu prepares for another captivating run, it remains a testament to the enduring power of theatre to reflect, question and inspire.