Madmen and Specialists is a dark satire by Wole Soyinka. Set in the aftermath of the Nigerian Civil War, it tells the story of a man (Dr. Bero) and his father (Old Man) who find themselves on opposing sides. The father, a physician slash philosopher, following his experiences at war comes up with the idea that humans should eat whatever they kill, including other humans. This stance, really a stand against war, causes him to promulgate a ‘religion’ in worship of ‘ASS’. He recruits four men, old patients of his damaged in body and mind, as ardent followers. His son Bero rises to a position of power in military intelligence, and finds himself at odds with his father. He imprisons and torments his father, seeking to know the true meaning of this ‘ASS’. Meanwhile, Si Bero, Bero’s sister, who has been left to hold the fort in the supposed absence of her father and brother, joins up with two elderly herbalists, Iya Agba and Iya Mate, who teach her the art of the herbs on the condition that Bero continues with the work when he returns from the war.
Things come to a head when Bero comes home, to confront his father and to break it to Si Bero that no, he will not be continuing the work. Things spiral out of control from here, culminating in tragedy.
I struggled with whether or not to write a ‘review’ of this play: how could I – should I even – write a review of a play I did not really understand. The producer had warned us in her opening remarks that we were in for something “weird”, but I had no idea. I have not read Madmen and Specialists, or really very much of Soyinka. A few minutes into the play I understood the reason for the producer’s warning, but I cannot say that it helped me much. I found this play quite confusing and felt off balance for most of it. There were some laughs here and there – the scene where the pastor visits Bero shortly after his return is particularly hilarious and would be the high point of the play for me, only I did not know it then. The rest of it was a struggle.
I will say, however, that the acting was superb. There was Patrick Diabuah, who is a personal favourite, as Dr. Bero. KelvinMary Ndukwe was terrifyingly convincing as Old Man. Other cast members include Bola Haastrup, Jennifer Osammor and Austin Onuoha. I do not fault the cast or crew at all. I just think that Madmen and Specialists is an obscure piece of work, certainly not the kind I enjoy. The play was one hour and twenty minutes long, and for once I did not wish a play to last longer.
I will commend the crew, though, for anticipating the audience’s confusion and trying to manage it. I liked that the producer had told us to prepare for a weird experience before the play started, even though I did not fully appreciate this heads up until later. She’d promised a Q and A session after the play, certain, in her own words, that we would have questions. She was right. I was relieved when someone in the audience asked, clearly confused, for a summary of the play. Director Kenneth Uphopho (with the silent ‘p’s; director of Saro and Single in Gidi) did a good job of explaining the play, and I think the audience was somewhat appeased.
Madmen and Specialists was brought to us by PawsStudios; the final showing was on Sunday July 26. Still, you can catch a play at Terra Kulture or the Lekki Waterside Theatre every Sunday.