It’s been over a year since I’ve posted on this blog (to the extent that wordpress refused to let me log in for a few days), so I have much to catch up on. Most recently an interview I did last July with playwright and screenwriter Africa Ukoh has been published by Brittle Paper. His play 54 Silhouettes is currently being performed as a one-man show at the Lagos Theatre Festival.
(Update 17 July 2019: Charles Etubiebi will also be bringing the one-man performance of 54 Silhouettes to the United Solo theatre festival in New York City on November 20, 2019, and an excerpt of the play will be performed in London as part of the Global Black Voices event at The Roundhouse Theatre on 10 August 2019.)
(Update 9 August 2019: Abba Makama’s film The Lost Okoroshi, for which Africa Ukoh wrote the screenplay, will be premiering at the Toronto Film Festival this September)
I first came across Africa’s work when I attended the November 2013 premiere of his play 54 Silhouettes in Jos, because the blurb of his play that I saw advertised at the Alliance Francaise looked interesting. The play follows a Nigerian actor who pursues his dream of acting in Hollywood but is troubled by the increasingly more disturbing “African” roles he is asked to play. It is a smart, thoughtful, passionate play. I loved it.
In my column in Daily Trust, I reviewed 54 Silhouettes, which in its earlier incarnation had won the 30 Nigeria House prize and had been performed as a radio play after it won the the first runner up of the 2011 BBC African performance competition. Last year, in 2018, Africa finally published the play with Parresia Press’s Origami imprint.
It can be purchased at bookshops in Lagos, Abuja, and Jos, and online at sites like konga.com. Since its publication, he has adapted it into a one-man performance for actor Charles Etubiebi, who has performed it in Lagos and Brazil. In March, Taiwo Afolabi directed a staged reading of the play at the Puente Theatre in Victoria, Canada, at the Spark Festival. Currently, Charles Etubiebi is performing the play on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, April 12, 13, and 14 as part of the Lagos Film Festival at Esther’s Revenge, Freedom Park, Broad Street, Lagos Island. You can purchase tickets for N3000 online at ariiyatickets.com. (Update 9 August 2019: This Saturday, 10 August, the play will also be featured as part of the African Voices event at the Roundhouse in London.)
Aside from 54 Silhouettes, Africa’s unpublished play Token Dead White Guy was shortlisted for the 2018 BBC International Playwriting Competition.
Africa also works as a screenwriter. He co-wrote, with the director Abba Makama, the film Green White Green that premiered at Toronto Film Festival in 2016 and is currently available on Netflix. Noah Tsika calls it “a hopeful, downright energizing love letter to Nigeria’s enterprising youth — to a new generation plainly capable of greatness.”
The film is a youthful takedown of the prejudices that tear Nigeria apart. It mocks Nollywood, with the good-natured ribbing of a son who follows in his father’s footsteps but laughs at his outdated affectations. It is a satire, but it is also filled with a restless joy and a tenderness that draws me in to watch it over and over again on homesick nights. I can’t wait to see future collaborations between Makama and Ukoh. (Update 9 August 2019: And one of those collaborations is premiering at the 2019 Toronto Film Festival: The Lost Okoroshi directed by Makama and written by Ukoh. Check it out. The trailer is on fire.)
To hear more of Africa’s thoughts on 54 Silhouettes, Token Dead White Guy, Green White Green, and the current state of theatre in Nigeria, check out our conversation on Brittle Paper, follow him on Twitter or Instagram, or, even better, go see the play this weekend. If you can’t get to Lagos for the performance, you can buy a copy of it online and stay tuned for future performances.
More blog posts to come.