Keppy Ekpenyong, one of the pioneering characters in the Nollywood industry, was at his best as Love and Recession, an adaptation of Professor Femi Osofisan’s The Engagement, produced by Ifeoma Fafunwa, hit the stage during the New Year. He spoke to Edozie Udeze on his role and why Love and Recession fits this season of economic downturn in Nigeria
Love and Recession, an adaptation of Professor Femi Osofisan’s The Engagement, was the main show during the New Year celebrations. The theatre scene in Lagos witnessed this love story directed by Ifeoma Fafunwa, to let the world know and really realise that love does exist in time of economic recession. This was why she deliberately chose The Engagement for this season. The Engagement is a well-known satire on the issue of love; love between the poor and the well-to-do, love that’s real and convincing.
It is a story that does not portray love as being discriminatory or cosmetic and so Fafunwa had to use three well-known characters in the theatre industry in Nigeria to demonstrate these roles. These characters included Keppy Ekpenyong, Omonor and Ikponmwosa Gold. Together the three brought to life the true nature of love to the delight of the audience. In fact, the Muson Centre, venue of the show was filled to capacity on the 31st of December when it ran for the third time. As Keppy bestrode the stage as the father of the young girl ready to get married, his presence evoked a bigger aura. With his baritone voice and large frame almost enveloping the stage, there was that pride in the life of a man whose lovely daughter had finally brought home the man after her heart.
Every inch of the way, it was love; love imbued with a huge sense of responsibility. It was like a lesson in the art of reality. If this man is the person you really love, then you have to be committed to each other.
In an interview, Keppy said, “Love in Recession is indeed a wonderful adaptation of Femi Osofisan’s The Engagement, inspired also by Russian playwright, Anton Chekhov’s play titled, A marriage proposal. So you can see, it is a love story right from the original source to where we are now. Punctuated with music and vocals and wonderful stage lightning, the play is a simple satirical expression of love and romance, set in a small town or a rural village in Nigeria. Interestingly, the setting was in the time of deep economic recession and the real issue of love and romance form the central theme in the play.”
He went on to say more: “Yes, it was a 17th century work in Europe and yet it is even more apt today. Love is ageless; it is deep; it is unconquerable. Love is the core of life, the reason for our existence. For us, therefore, it is comic, lighthearted, with every good quality that unwinds the interpretation of both works – The Engagement and A marriage proposal. For us, it is a simple superficial story where you have the setting of a potential wife.”
In the story, Keppy held his daughter in high esteem, eager to let her go and have her own home. He said further, “As the father of the bride-to-be, I had that confidence that she would do well. This was why I encouraged the wedding and ensured that the marriage was a huge success. That is the basic thing in this wonderful story that has taught us how to be good parents to our children. Omonor is a wonderful stage artiste and it has been rewarding working with her on stage. We had an outing together in London when I played Baruka. She is an old friend and we have done a few jobs together. Then Gold is new in my life but he is also fantastic. A wonderful artiste too, he played his role to the delight of all.”
Keppy, known for his big roles as an actor, is an old horse on the job. He is not just among the first generation of Nollywood stars, his face is well-known in most soaps in Nigeria. He reasoned thus: “For the theatre, I think Ifeoma Fafunwa is the vanguard, in the renaissance vanguard to promote theatre in Nigeria. Many people feel she is elitist in her approach and style. Yet it is not so. Theatre is for everybody and someone has to add this spice to it. It is for her to draw attention to theatre and for people to equally have things to keep them busy in this kind of season. What we have noticed is that there has been an upsurge. The Fafunwa group has been showing fantastic plays all along and this is one of them.”
Nigerian stage theatre, according to Keppy, has gone international in the past year or so. And this is due to the efforts of Fafunwa and others. Therefore, they have to be commended so as to do more. “All her works have been large and exceptional. So now, there is a bigger attention paid to the theatre that when we need to relax we have one or two shows to keep us amused. This is quite commendable for the stage takes more of your energy than the radio or the television.”
A lot of people feel because there is a recession people are shutting down. When people think of recession, they lock themselves in, they lock themselves out. “But with recession here or elsewhere, things can happen; recession should indeed usher in a new lease of life. That is what is happening in most families. Do we cut our coat according to our size? We do not need to waste things and this is what recession is teaching all of us. This play is good now to teach all of us how to face those realities whether in our love life or not”, he said.
So now that Nigerians, most of us though, are trying to adjust, there is a difficulty. “We were known to be wasteful in those days of abundance.” Love and Recession therefore is creatively inspired to take care of all these issues in our lives. It resonates differently with different people. When you watch the play, you take home what appeals to you. That is the whole essence of this play done in this time of recession to depict love in its satirical sense. At the end of the play, you’ll notice how great it is; the lesson it has for everyone; for every family.”
Keppy who confessed that he does not prefer stage to the tube, reiterated the need to make theatre totally amenable to the people. “Stage theatre brings out the best in you as an actor. Yes, it does. But in Nigeria, you sweat just too much to bring out a play. So you are sacrificing time; too much energy, just to produce a play. You spend less of that to produce a screen play or so. It is just too much energy for far too little. This is why the stage does not really appeal to me all the time. You have to balance your source of earning and so if you depend solely on stage, that may not be practicable. Even though a lot of people have begun to show interest and appreciation towards the stage it takes a lot of money to put one play on stage. It is indeed capital – intensive to do so.”
As an actor, Keppy believes that stage does not encourage you to have multiple sources of income. “It tasks you too much”, he insisted. “See, I have another performance now, I have lost my voice and I have to do my performance better than I did in the afternoon. This is one of those things stage does to you. It is tiring, even though a lot of people enjoy it. We try to organise time to rest after each show, because you need time to get into character again for the next show. That is how challenging it is to us. Yet the play can be done for all seasons. This play is season less and it appeals to all classes of people,” he concluded.
As it is now, it is hoped that Fafunwa and her team can muster enough resources and goodwill to take Love and Recession beyond the confines of the Muson Centre, Lagos. It is a play that promotes family values in this time of hardship occasioned by the economic downturn in the society. It is really both The Engagement and A marriage proposal, defining true love when it matters most – Love in Recession.