“The duty of youth is to challenge corruption.” – Kurt Cobain
“Having nothing left, there is nothing to lose.” – William Shakespeare
This year’s Secondyear Theatre Performance was once again – as expected – brilliant. The theatre students staged the piece “Marching for Fausa” by the Nigerian playwright and author Biyi Bandele, which explores issues like arranged child marriages, freedom of speech, social unrest, the responsibility of journalists and dictatorships. These are all rather big and conflicted topics, but the play manages to bring them together through a very simple storyline. The play is set in Songhai, an imaginary country in West Africa. Telani Balarabe, a young journalist full of passion for her job and photography, is trying to bring light into the mystery of the disappearance of a group of schoolchildren. The children were arrested by the police when they protested against the arranged marriage of one of their schoolmates, Fausa.
Most of the story is told in flashbacks. Telani Balarabe, played by Maddie from the US, has been imprisoned for her participation in the protests for Fausa and is under the threat to be soon executed. Fortunately enough, she is sitting in Cell 10, meaning that she has nine prisoners to be executed before her – one every 45 minutes. A State Security Officer, played by Martin who took on this role last-minute due to cast difficulties, tries to press information out of her, constantly reminding her of the danger she faces. Martin played the Security Officer very well, balancing his role between over-sloshing anger and cruel patience.
One of the first flashbacks, though impossibly Telani’s own, shows Fausa’s classmates at school on the day of her marriage. Their teacher, very convincingly played by my co-year Nashwa from Yemen, doesn’t know what has happened and tries to stop the students. However, as so often, the young students don’t listen to their teacher, skip school and leave to protest against Fausa being sold for marriage, led by their classmate Ebenezer. They protest in front of Fausa’s home, but are soon watched and eventually arrested by a police officer.
Another flashback shows Telani witnessing the power shift within Songhi, from one dictator to the next. Telani attends the speech by the ruling army officer, when he and his lieutenants are suddenly shot down and a new army officer comes on stage, claiming the microphone. Telani doesn’t know how to react and decides to continue her job and now takes pictures of the new army officer instead.
Another flashbacks presents Dr. Olatide Kiriyo, Honorary Minister of Cultural Affairs of Songhi, to the audience. As revealed in the scene, he is the one Fausa is supposed to be married to. Bragging about his many wires and heavily flirting with his secretary, Kiriyo says that his marriage with Fausa had been arranged before Fausa was even born. “I made an arrangement with her parents, that when their child was born and if it turned out to be a girl, I could marry her as soon as she was old enough”, he says. Vincent, in my eyes one of our most outstanding theatre students, was simply perfect in this role and played it flawlessly.
Another scene that I found very impressive was the one providing insight into the hierarchy of journalism: Telani is sitting in a meeting with her colleague and chief editor of the Newsday On Sunday, discussing the role of journalists in conflicts and issues like Fausa’s. While Zak, the newspaper’s features editor, is a slippery, bland man trying to please the chief editor in any way he can (the kind of guy who climbs up the ladder with compliments and is never well-liked), Nneka Alakija-Brown, the chief-editor, is a strong, fierce woman with lots of makeup and her hair tied in a bun. You can tell that she aspires only the best for her newspaper and doesn’t want to waste her time with passionate journalists like Telani, who want to change the world. The scene ends with Telani being fired after refusing to withdraw from her position by herself, as her chief-editor sees no use in her anymore.
In the end of the play, just before Telani is fired, she visits the local prison where the young students are held under arrest. She wants to see the students and talk to them, yet only after she bribed the guards with a lots of money, she is given the permission to see one of the students. While scrambling on the floor, shoving the dollar notes into their pockets, the guards think for a moment and then call one of the students out. He appears, limping and with a big, bloody bandage wrapped around his head. There is an outcry from Telani, and the guards excuse themselves for having brought out the wrong student – clearly indicating that they would have preferred not revealing the outrageous state the students are in, at all.
The last flashback brings the audience to the protests of the Women’s Union. 100’000 of them – sisters, mothers, daughters, grandmothers – have come together in front of the Minister’s office, demanding Kiriyo to allow the release of the school children from prison. Kiriyo shows no good will and tries to switch topic, loosing himself more and more in a net of sexism, angering the women even more. In the end, lead by Telani, the women attack Kiriyo. He is swept off his feet by the outraged crowd and covered by the hurling women.
“Marching for Fausa” ended, as it had begun, in Cell N° 10. Telani has 45 minutes left to her execution, as prisoner of Cell N° 9 just hung himself, and the State Security Officer urges her to save her life and tell him the names. The play ends openly, with Telani crunching on her chair, unsure of what to do and what to say.
The whole play was very powerful. It touched topics that are very close to our student’s hearts and explored them in a subtle, yet solid way, easily keeping the audience’s concentration up. The issues that came up interested me a lot, and especially the fact that this play was also heavily based on the role of a journalist, fascinated and excited me even more. Theatre teacher Steve wrote into the play handout: “‘Marching for Fausa’ is the climax of the Year 2 Theatre class study of African theatre. As the “Second Year Show” it is also the celebration of their time together on the course and their last major performance as a class! The play is an ideal choice for LPC. The themes […] are typically those of concern to UWC students and very topical in terms of world events.” I can only congratulate our theatre students to their wonderful performance. Each of them fitted their role perfectly and were able to convey a very authentic and convincing atmosphere on stage. Bravo! This was definitely one of the very best theatre plays in LPC so far!