Book Review: The Prime Minister’s Son @ 20

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The Prime Minister’s Son (20 Years Anniversary Edition) by Greg Mbajiorgu; Kraftgroits, Kraft Books Limited, Ibadan; 2011

The one-man theatre represents a revolution of sorts against the background of the emphasis on crowd scenes in African theatre. The solo performance is completely opposed to the work of, say, a stand-up comedian who just tells jokes for the heck of it. Greg Mbajiorgu has for the past 20 years championed the cause of the one-man theatre with The Prime Minister’s Son, a performance that is at once spectacular and very penetrating. First performed in 1991 at the National Youths Service Corps (NYSC) Secretariat, Calabar, Cross River State by its creator Greg Mbajiorgu, The Prime Minister’s Son has ever since toured most of the states of Nigeria, North and South, without any sponsorship whatsoever. The 20th anniversary edition of the play is a grand testimony to belief.

As a mono-dramatist, Mbajiorgu stands likened to the exploits of the late Funsho Alabi and the living Tunji Sotimirin. The difference is that unlike Alabi and Sotimirin, Greg Mbajiorgu has a published text to show for his efforts. The play is remarkably dedicated “To Funsho Alabi, king of solo, whose indelible footprints have continued to guide me on this solitary journey.”

According to Professor Dapo Adelugba in his foreword to the play, “Greg Mbajiorgu’s The Prime Minister’s Son debunks the old myth that the dramatist, the performer and the director are three separate sub-worlds of the world of theatre. He has shown in his work, which he has created, directed and acted, that these three worlds can be collapsed into one, which is exactly what has happened.” Of course the play as it is presented now has been revised and re-revised from what it was in its first incarnation 20 years ago.

 The eponymous character is the rejected son of the Prime Minister who embodies 12 other characters in the play. Multiple role-playing is the essence of the drama as it unfolds from a cemetery beside a local church where the Prime Minister’s Son in a completely tattered outfit dirges as he advances towards his dead mother’s tombstone.

 It makes for captivating theatre that an ill-starred boy is misbegotten through the illicit liaison of a Prime Minister and his house-girl Ezinma. When the pregnancy manifests the Prime Minister deigns to foist responsibility upon his houseboy Emenike. Both house-helps are then banished from the household of the Prime Minister. The luckless Emenike and Ezinma must perforce find a way to survive in a very hostile landscape. They get married and then Ezinma delivers the Prime Minister’s unwanted son. It is a tough call bringing up the child after Emenike tragically dies. Ezinma then withdraws the boy from the boarding school he had been attending. Ezinma tries all her best to give the boy all she could afford until the State Task Force on Environmental Sanitation destroys her stall. She runs mad and then dies. After the death of his mother the orphan then learns the truth about his actual parentage as a prime minister’s son. His attempt to get through to his father, the Prime Minister, fails and he ends up lamenting as a homeless wanderer.

In all, the sole actor reprises 13 roles, from his pivotal role as the Prime Minister’s son to the 12 other characters of the play, notably Ezinma, Emenike, Blind Woman, Mr. Okafor, Adaku, Wife, Ozoemena, Our Master, Papa Adaeze, The Landlady and Enyinnia. The Prime Minister’s Son is so demanding on the actor such that only one with plenty reserves of protean resources can undertake a staging of the play. The actor is called upon to become a redoubtable ventriloquist. The alteration of voice is of great import. Music is an essential aspect of the play in the manner of the chorus of Ancient Greek drama. Greg Mbajiorgu deploys the flashback technique to flesh out the enactment of the story.

This 20th anniversary edition of The Prime Minister’s Son has an appendix entitled “The Prime Minister’s Son, Nineteen Years After: Reflections (A Prelude to the 2oth anniversary)” written by Greg Mbajiorgu and first published in 2010 by Unizik Journal of Arts and Humanities to mark the 19th anniversary of the play. The author there offers insights on his working methods and intellectual motifs.

Born on May 24, 1964, Greg Mbajiorgu who was educated at the University of Nigeria and the University of Ibadan had in the 1980s experimented with the improvisational theatre outfit known as Release Mandela Campaign Theatre, staging in 1986 the anti-apartheid play “The Freedom Charter”. It was in 1991 that he broke bold ground by venturing into mono-drama via The Prime Minister’s Son.

The play is fast moving and never boring as most plays with minimalist casting are wont to. Greg Mbajiorgu deserves celebration for taking The Prime Minister’s Son into progressive adulthood at 20.

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