Theatre Review: Meditation, A story about escapism, coming of age and love
Written By Yaw Twumasi
Date staged: November 18th
Location: Efua Sutherland Drama Studio. University of Ghana
Time run: 2hrs
Director: Prince Bortey
You probably haven’t been paying attention much as compared to music concerts and other event types but Ghana has a bustling Theatre scene with many talented writers, actors, and Directors putting together spectacles amidst structural and economic challenges to tell stories that matter
On the commercial front, the famous Uncle Ebo Whyte leads the pack having successfully put up several plays at the National Theatre over the years. Even though such commercial success should highlight the activities of new directors passionate about telling their stories, that doesn’t seem to be the result but they still strive
The country’s premier University, the University of Ghana has an active School of Performing Arts Department where students learn to hone their skills in dance, drama, and music. The department also boasts of the Efua Sutherland Drama Studio, named after one of Ghana’s most prolific and influential playwrights Professor Efua Sutherland. It is at this very location where a young playwright called Prince Bortey staged the play titled Meditation, a devised theatre piece that I will be reviewing.
Meditation is a devised theatre piece combining dance, drama, and music; the plot follows the stories of different characters in their early 20s who are coming of age and discovering adventures that seem to serve as a means of escapism from their daily lives and demands of a tough world they live in. In the course of the play, viewers are served with acting, music, and dance which serve as expressive mediums the characters use to portray how they feel. These devices also help move the story and keep the audience engaged during the story and lesson being communicated.
In the story, we are introduced to different characters, a young woman who finds herself selling drugs to take care of herself and her sister, a young man who is under pressure from his friends to make a move on a girl to prove he is cool, a young woman who is sexually assauted and a young woman who is cheated on by her boyfriend. All these stories run in parallel in the play in a way that shows that the lives of the characters are interconnected.
The Play makes use of a minimal set design adapting a technique called Blackbox. The set designers included some graffiti to add some texture but kept it simple, giving the performers room to dance and perform. The graffiti and dramatic colors later come alive with lighting as the play progresses. Even though the set had a functional use, I can’t help but deny the fact that most of the creative decisions were made out of cost-saving measures as with some funding, a much more elaborate set would have created some spectacle scenes and mood. I reached out to the Director to comment on this and this is what he had to say…
With set design we employed a style of theatre called black box. Which is literally all a black box. I just decided to add some little graffiti to add some texture but still Keep it simple.This style was essential to the episodic nature of the play having multiple scenes and all. Even if we could afford an elaborate set. scene changes would the killed pacing of the play hence the minimalism. Also to create room for movements like you mentioned.”
The use of music and sound helps tell the story without drawing attention to itself. Trendy popular songs are used in the play befitting of the young audience the play appeals to. Sound effects help drive tension and draw attention to certain plot points the audience should pay attention to.
Costuming in this play portrays the fashion of young people today. The costuming indicates the characters as unorthodox people in touch with trends of this age and confident in their style. However, it fails to show any characterization and doesn’t tell much about the individual characters.
The nature of the play doesn’t give room for any memorable acting. Performances by characters are good enough to keep you spellbound and interested in them but the lack of in-depth characterization doesn’t give room for any stellar performance by any actor
Despite having a lot of highly memorable moments, the play fails to deliver a very clear message, this might be an unfair assessment since plays of this nature mostly focus on performance rather than messaging but audiences expect a message when they go out to see plays and that can’t be discounted. The Play adapts the role of a narrator who shows up on stage in between scenes to provide some context and expose parts the audience might have missed, this still doesn’t answer the question of what the play was trying to convey to its audience. It makes some moral points about drugs being dangerous but also states in another breadth that young people must escape their reality through drug usage. If anything, the play fails to make a bold statement about the unorthodox creative decision it takes. The Director had this to say
With messaging, all I wanted to do was to create perspective into the lives of the characters. Most stories on drug abuse are quick to preach and judge and don’t offer enough perspective. It wasn’t my intention to preach and take a stance on the subject. I’m humanizing these characters and knowing why they do what they do then we can find a way to help them cos each person’s situation is very different and should be treated differently. The messaging wasn’t ambiguous, I did however take a stance on the subject as a writer but in a very subtle manner because it’s not my intention to impose my views on others I want people to think what they want to think and that’s why the messaging is also ambiguous. Just like a painting on the wall it is open to subjectivity.”
Stories like this are important because they evolve performance as well as tell stories we don’t often see on the stage in this country. The Director and his cast and crew took on a bold step and it’s commendable. Hopefully, we should see more young people like Bortey put up plays despite all the challenges around them
About the Director
Prince Bortey is a level 400 student at the University of Ghana majoring in Theatre Arts. He is a writer/Director who loves to tell stories about people his age through Drama and other Art Forms. Follow him on Instagram