Style & Luxury
The death cheater in ‘Grip Am’
It was the Alarinjo Theatre that popularised the open-air theatre performance. The travelling theatre of Hubert Ogunde and Duro Ladipo also used this medium. However, penultimate weekend, The Lagos Theatre Festival in conjunction with the British Council, brought back to life this form of theatre. Most of the plays staged took place in unconventional parts of the Eko Hotel & Suites.
For instance, ‘The Waiting Room,’ written by Wole Oguntokun was staged at the underground car park, while ‘Grip Am’ written by Ola Rotimi but reworked and directed by Deleke O. Gbolade, took place at the open Pentanque area in the hotel. The large courtyard served as a good stage for the seven-man cast to move around freely with the trees serving as good backdrops.
Unlike the original version written by Ola Rotimi where the lead character is Ise, the main character in Gbolade’s adaptation is Chairman, a poor farmer who seems content with his subsistent living. But his bad-tempered wife never stops telling him he will die a wretched man. His worries are compounded when he discovers that someone has been tampering with the stockfish he hangs on the tree in his compound. This causes rancour between him and his wife who never stops telling him how wretched and unproductive is fishing trade is.
A twist is brought to the plot when a pastor turns up to make peace, saying that Eledumare is willing to answer their prayers if only they make a request of what they want from Eledumare. It is an opportunity for Chairman to get back at the thief who has been stealing from him.
“You know the tin wey I want?” he tells the pastor. “I want the persin wey climb dis tree to pluck my fish, if I say ‘grip am’ make im gum to the tree. Na di tin wey I want be dat.”
Paradoxically, his wife requests from Eledumare that her husband should die since he has chosen to die poor. She asks that death should come and kill him, so that she could have peace.
However, the first victim of Chairman’s spell is his Landlord, who comes to his home in his absence to demand for his rent. The Landlord is attracted to the stockfish on the tree. He climbs the tree to ‘pluck’ the stockfish when Chairman walks in. ‘Grip am,” says Chairman. And the Landlord gets glued to the tree. The condition for Landlord to get his freedom is the forfeiture of the land to Chairman and all the accumulated rents.
‘Grip Am’ shares the same affinity with Femi Osofisan’s ‘Album of the Midnight Blackout’ that is a satirical representation of the then Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP). ‘Grp Am’ is a protest literature that kicks against the oppression of the poor by the rich. It shows the divide in the social class structure, where the rich holds sway.
The theme of social dis-equilibrium in ‘Grip Am’ focuses on the tenuous social relationship between the elite class typified by the Landlord and the peasant class represented by Chairman, his wife and their neighbours. The play is a parody of a post-colonial African nation that fails to provide a meaningful means of livelihood for its teeming population, thereby making members of the lower class vulnerable to the harsh socio-economic dictates of hunger, disease and social marginality.
Chairman’s constant argument with his wife is a representation of the social dislocation and the collective traumas of post-colonial society that is implicated in wrong socio-economic prioritisation and stupendous economic mismanagement. This mismanagement is orchestrated by the elite class in the society. It also reveals the tragic repercussions of a lopsided post-colonial social relationship, where people like Chairman are at the mercy and control of the elite, like the Landlord.
‘Grip Am’ offers a vivid account of contemporary Nigeria, enmeshed in socio-economic dis-equilibrium. The disparity between the rich and poor is so much that the devastating effect of poverty in the lives of the poor has rendered them virtually sub-human. Hence, when the tide turns and the Landlord is at the mercy of his tenant, Chairman, when he casts the ‘grip am’ spell on him. At the end, he has to forfeit the rent and the entire land.
Gbolade’s graphic presentation of the economic divide between the rich and poor captures the peculiarity and intensity of the psychological dehumanisation the poor suffers in contemporary Nigeria. Chairman, hero of the play, is a stereotypical poverty-ridden Nigerian, whose disrupted family life and chequered personal history cause him to experience repeated humiliation meted out to him and his wife by the Landlord, and eventually Death whom he also defeated.
The play is a satirical representation of the social inequality that had opened up a vast gulf between the rich and the poor in Nigeria since independence. Such gaps could no longer be blame outright on colonial history, but largely on the greed of new elite.
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