Lagos Theatre Festival 2019: Lala Akindoju’s “Lavender” is a science experiment

Lala Akindoju’s directorial debut, “Lavender” which ran at the Lagos Theatre Festival 2019 explores what it means to be modern in a society still hanging on to the coat tails of tradition. It is also a journey into the interior landscape of what it means to give and how our need can sometimes become a burden.

The premise of the play is simple; a married couple are at their wits end after “seven years of marriage and ten miscarriages” because the woman’s womb cannot carry a child to term.

Becky played by Kehinde Bankole is going out of her mind while her husband, Frank played by Deyemi Okanlawo is also getting tired of the rigmarole. In comes Yemisi played by the really competent new comer, Oludara Egerton-Shyngle as Becky’s young friend who gives a stunning performance as the conflicted do-gooder.

Yemisi agrees to be surrogate mother to Becky and Frank’s child. Her exuberant “I am pregnant…we are pregnant” as she massages her growing bump foreshadows the bumps ahead.

The plan is that she will get pregnant then travel abroad with Becky. They would then return with the baby and no one would be the wiser.

The plan seems water-tight since Yemisi who calls Becky, Senior Becky and her husband Uncle Frank, has benefited from the couple’s generosity and describes them as “the most amazing people in the world.”

But pregnancy is not child’s play and once reality dawns, Yemisi begins to have second thoughts. “I will be fat. I can’t date. I won’t have sex.”

But there is more to come. Yemisi is unable to get a visa and so is stuck in Nigeria while Becky heads abroad. This is a part of the play which smacks of unnecessary contriving; one meant to help push the plot along and enable what happens afterwards happen.

Stuck at home and alone with Frank, Yemisi is a needy and demanding pregnant woman whose initial joy at helping out has fizzled out. She is craving strange concoctions and suffering cabin fever on account of the fact that she has to stay home a lot because she can’t be seen in public with a protruding tummy.

Frank is dutiful and involved, meeting her needs and brushing aside her growing rudeness. At one point she says to Frank “I am pregnant, not handicapped.”

One night, Frank’s mum visits and Rita Edward’s turn as Mama provides that comical interlude that is almost de rigueur in Nigerian plays.

Eager for his mother not to discover the ruse playing out with Yemisi he tries to shoo his unexpected guest to bed.

“Mama you should go and sleep,” he tells her to which she replies in typical Naija speak.

“But sleep is not catching me.”

Finally, Yemisi gets her visa but just as she is about to leave for the UK, her water breaks and the child is born.

Surrogacy means that a woman who needs a baby but who cannot carry a pregnancy to term will give her eggs, fertilized by her husband to a surrogate who helps carry the pregnancy to term then delivers and hands over the baby.

This is the plan but once the baby is born Yemisi becomes so attached to the child that she will not hand her over to Becky and this leads to what Fela called – Stalemate.

Into the brewing war steps in a returning Mama who takes charge by snatching the baby from Yemisi and dropping the play’s best line – “So, you do science student to born pikin.”

Lavender is an experimental piece using music to create mood and effect. The overall feeling is a sweet smelling experience.

Kudos.

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