"Hear Word!" is how Nigerians start a story, a sort of town crier’s call and Hear Word! Naija Woman Talk True co-written and directed by Ifeoma Fafunwa is definitely attention catching. This production by Fafunwa’s iOpenEye and American Repertory Theater is agit-prop theatre at its best, forceful and hard-hitting, at times horrific. The show also contains humour with ten women castigating men for mistreating women, whether through gender inequalities, sexism, abuse and rape but also taking to task the women who condone this behaviour.
This uplifting show is one not to miss.
In the vibrant colours and bold patterns of Nigerian costume including elaborate headdresses (gele), each of the women performs in turn in a collage of monologues and some ensembles accompanied by percussion by Blessing Idireri, Emeka Anokwuru and Emmanuel Uzoka which emphasies or responds to their speech as well punctuating each tale. The diction of all the women is not always clear, so sadly some of the details are lost. But the general message always comes across loud and clear performed with stylised expression and exaggerated movements, with much bottom shaking and occasionally terrific moments of dance.
"It starts small," says the first performer - then instances of unwanted touching are listed in the office and the dilemma made clear, "I really need this job." The examples magnify as a girl’s youth and inexperience walking at twilight with a man can lead unwittingly into rape and the marriage of a seven year old girl to an old man which is no better than rape by a paedophile. A story about the beating of a wife, where she gets her own back is amusingly told but underlines the problem of a society which also thinks that she must have done something to deserve it. The most harrowing story is of a young wife who gives birth to a still-born child. Her internal complications mean she can no longer bear children so her husband divorces her and she is ostracised by society.
It is clear that the status of women in Nigeria is amost non-existant, legally as well as socially. Some women condone this, thinking the birth of one male child is better than several female children.
But it is not all a catalogue of horrors. The second half is celebratory of women’s strength, power and sexuality. Not all men are bad in this section but are celebrated here. The pièce de résistance performed magnificently by Taiwo Ajai-Lycett in yellow and gold dress, plus an imposing shiny mauve headdress. Merely entering and standing centre stage is a statement, encouraging women to own their sexuality even at an older age. Followed by a hilarious vignette Songs of Praise performed by Ufuoma McDermott, a born again Christian who celebrates her orgasm as God.
These feisty women will surely start a sea-change in Nigeria. In fact, you’d be surprised that any man would stand up to them, but of course societal change has a long way to go. Their message is relevant throughout the world too and this uplifting show is one not to miss.