A scene from Wole Soyinka’s “Death and the King’s Horseman”, performed recently at the National Theatre in Lagos. Photo by: Yemi Apetu

[By Pelu Awofeso]

The Lagos Theatre Festival, a project of the British Council in Nigeria, opens this year on February 28 with a symposium and Press Day.

Founded in 2013, the 2017 edition–themed “Rhythm of the City”–will run through 5 March, feature 500 artists and 100 performances across 20 locations in Nigeria’s commercial hub. Performers and participants are expected from South Africa, Zimbabwe, United Kingdom and the United States.

“This edition of the Lagos Theatre Festival will be showing new work that will portray the rhythm, soul and sights of Lagos,” according to the British Council site. “The theme was selected to capture through performance, the sounds of Lagos expressed in the comings and goings, the repetitive activities and the music of the city.”

A large chunk of the festival proper–a rich mix of drama, music, comedy, seminars, workshops, panel discussions and masterclasses–will hold at the increasingly popular arts and events centre Freedom Park (Broad Street). Other locations include: Muson Centre, City Hall, a venue in Bariga, and the recently opened Theatre Republic.

According to the organisers, there will be 5 curated shows from the UK and Nigeria, four of which are winning scripts from the playwriting competition won by James Ene- Henshaw,  Joy Isi Bewaji, Bode Asiyanbi and Paul Ugbede.

The plays will be produced by: Crown Troupe of Africa, Beeta Universal Productions, Tunji Sotimirin and Oxzygen Koncepts with grant support from the British Council.

It is highly likely that this year’s festival will outshine the 2016 edition which hosted 109 shows, 35 companies and an estimated  5,500 attendees.

Like it was last year, there’s to be a “fringe” complement to the curated main event, “an open access festival for all genres in the performing arts (small theatre, children’s theatre, dance, film, spoken word, comedy, puppetry, cabaret, music and interdisciplinary arts) and is designed to allow performers/companies  not participating in the curated festival an opportunity to present work for viewing, an excellent avenue to get involved in the Festival program, try out ideas and receive audience and delegate feedback.”

The fringe shows will expose the works of 35 companies from Nigeria, South Africa and Zimbabwe from all genres in the performing arts, including comedy, experiential theatre, musical and Drama.

National Theatre Lagos. Picture by Samer Kawar

Meanwhile, the lineup of plays are as varied in subject matter as can be for any festival of this stature; however, they are all linked by the hopes, hassles, tension and riotous living that define everyday Lagos. And it is no doubt a fitting prelude to the 50th anniversary celebrations of the state, scheduled for later in May.

With its founding of the Lagos Theatre Festival, the British Council is re-establishing the status of Lagos as the powerhouse of all things arty in Nigeria and building on similar initiatives by individuals, groups and organisations from years past and which are sadly now defunct.

“We are very proud of what Lagos Theatre Festival has achieved in terms of being a platform through which the Nigerian theatre sector engages with the rest of the world,” says Ojoma Ochai, Director Arts, British Council. “This year’s festival will see visitors from International Network for Contemporary Performing Arts (IETM) , International Association of Theatre Critics (IATC) and festival management organisations from around the UK like Walk the Plank , London International Festival of Theatre (LIFT) and institutions like Edinburgh Napier University.”

Says the festival’s Artistic Director, Kenneth Uphopho: The Lagos Theatre Festival “[has] become much more than a festival. What we are offering this year is a lifestyle.”

Download complete festival calendar.