REVIEWS

‘For anyone whose ever had a dream, or ever had to struggle, or ever needed a reason to hope – Heartbeat is for you.

It is about making the choice for what is right, even when everything is pointing one way – it is about making a stand for those things that will heal, that will build, that will last forever.

In a time when there’s such a battle for our minds, Heartbeat tells a story – which is a universal one – that as long as we still have this blood running through our veins, and as long as we can still hear the beat - we can still hope – that things will get better.’

 

REVIEWS OF THE 2009 SHOWCASEPulsating rhythms from the Garden Theatre
By Aderinsola Ajao
December 19, 2009 08:44PMT
The crowd that gathered at Ikoyi on Saturday, December 5, probably did not know what The Garden Theatre Company had in store for it. It was the pre-run viewing of ‘Heartbeat’, a musical directed by Tosin Otudeko.
Heartbeat tells the story of the recently-orphaned Arin and her time in Hope Academy. While there, she makes friends with File, Adi and Bisi. Her dalliances later stretch further to the Fighters For Change, a group of criminal revolutionaries desperate to destroy the Establishment and all who have benefitted from it.
Lies, betrayal, jealousy, love, power-play and corruption are the vices this beautiful musical brings to the fore. While it may be expected that the performance be riddled with melodrama, arising from the brewing love affair between Arin and File, the director downplays this.
What we have here is a political statement wrapped in history and complex, multiple love stories; love that exists between friends, between mother and daughter, between sisters and the desire for change. In the mix with love and politics is religion: the anchor for File and the lifeline he offers Arin in her dark times. We are not sure if she accepts it.
The action plays out on a thrust stage and is brought to life in the actors’ use of voice and body. They sing and dance like they are born to do it and in their delivery, hope rises for the future of theatre in Nigeria.
The multi-level set by Ekarika Ekanem is both aesthetic and utilitarian. It reminds us of plateas from the era of medieval dramas. The choreography by Aliu Olatunji and Tosin Otudeko is creative, relevant and very in sync with the lines from the songs. Above all, it reflects the emotions of the actors.
Depending on the mood on stage, the music rises and falls in tempo. A perfect example of this is when the actors peform ‘Thought Melody,’ a rap-like performance with each character telling us what they expect from life. Each renders his or her thoughts individually at first, and then in properly synchronised dance and dramatic delivery, their thoughts clash in a way that is appropriate only in the Theatre of the Absurd. If anyone in the audience was not unnerved at this point, they’ll need to check themselves.
The musical’s theme treads subtly but assuredly through the performance. Though one does not constantly sense it, it keeps up with the mood of the musical and the ominous eventuality that is Heartbeat’s conclusion. This story might be sad to some, but in the end, its reality is unavoidable. Also, in a strange way, the conclusion is not absolute. The director leaves it to her audience’s discretion.
The storyline of ‘Heartbeat’ walks the path of classic musicals like ‘Annie’ and ‘Les Miserables.’
With the quality of the script and the exceptional dialogue, one is not surprised that the performance is a result of rigorous appraisal and re-appraisal by experts far and wide.
As script-writer and director, Otudeko has done a great job bringing her idea to the stage. It might also fascinate the audience to discover that all the songs in this production bear the director’s copyright. With the able help of music producer Efosa Lawal, who, in the words of Otudeko, “selflessly and painstakingly extracted every note, melody and rhythm I had in my head – and made it into music,” ‘Heartbeat’ had the stage pulsating with beats and rhythm.
The versatility of the genres also kept the stage alive and the audience involved. There was Nigerian hip-hop, Afrobeat, classical, swing and jazz. The songs resonate long after one has left the theatre. The audience will do well to look out for songs like the Afro-contemporary ‘Oya’, ‘Season’, the reverberating ‘Thought Melody’, the thought-provoking ‘Voice in the Wind’, and the swing jig ‘Who Would’ve Thought.’
Featuring in this innovative performance are Zara Udofia as Arin and Kelvin Alozie as the repentant and peace-preaching File. Damilola Kalejaiye is the self-dependent Bisi. She is the daughter of Mrs. Joku, principal of Hope Academy, played by Tubosun Aiyedehin. Frederick Ekpu is the hopeful Adi and Toritseju Ejoh is rebel leader, Kashi. Sola Onayiga from Fuji House of Commotion is Arin’s late mother.
The director’s approach to bringing back the dead is creative, for want of a better word. Scenes of memory and nightmare take place on stage with no standard transition. This was Brecht at his best or Strindberg on a roll. We bear the burden of memory for Arin and File anytime they recall their past and are tormented by it. At the end of the drama, the sighs by some in the audience, show their attachment within two and a half hours to people they don’t even know.
For an inaugural performance, Heartbeat has raised the bar. Prior to the pre-run viewing, bits of the musical had been shown at various gatherings. The producers encourage feedback from the audience to improve future performances of the play.
Some of the recommendations would be more spectacle on a larger stage. The play has every potential to be a commercial success even here in Nigeria, where people have only recently started to imbibe a theatre-going culture. Make-up remains nearly there and needs to look more realistic. Many would vouch that all bloodshed on the stage that night was water colour in action.
Acting in most parts was superb, but Kalejaiye and Ekpu as Bisi and Adi respectively, need to keep a hold on their roles. Both slip out of those roles constantly and only appear to re-assume their characters when they have a line to deliver.
This was an overall excellent performance that can only get better. When the musical debuts for public viewing in the first quarter of next year, it will no doubt be playing to packed theatres. Heartbeat is a classic in the making.
Heartbeat… through conflict, hardship, hope is reborn
By Anote Ajeluorou
It was what Prof. Dapo Adelugba would call ‘small’ or ‘flash’ theatre on account of its rather homely ambience without the usual theatrical fanfare. The venue was at 10, Ikoya Avenue, Ikoyi, Lagos. The audience could not have been more than 300 persons. But when the curtains dropped, there was the unmistakable feeling of satisfaction that the evening and money had been well spent. Even words failed the artistic director Tosin Otudeko to express her gratitude to the audience that had honoured her with their presence for her tentative steps.
Now, audiences will see the play fully next year. According to Otudeko, I’m planning to do a run next year from about end of January and first week in February onwards. I’m currently looking at the feasibility and coming up with the strategy and plan to make it happen. This includes looking at sponsorship and devising a marketing plan to achieve a medium to long term production run, as well as seeking further development opportunities for the play”.
Indeed, the pre-run viewing of Heartbeat could not have been more than tentative considering the ‘small’ venue used, and the ‘small’ audience it had. But perhaps, too, it did served its purpose right. Even ‘small’ theatres are endangered; the ‘smallness’ is no guarantee that huge funds won’t be required to get them going. The lighting, the innumerable microphones strapped all round the stage to provide quality audio sound, the full musical set and the players, the full set design all speak of some expense and attention to details.
However, Otudeko with her The Garden Theatre Company has succeeded with Heartbeat where many in theatre practice fear to thread. And, with a musical play replete with so much meaning for everyone to take home, it was clear Heartbeat’s message is also for theatre practitioners to gird their loins as well: that there is hope even in the face of hardship, want, conflict, chaos and the loss of our common humanity.
More than anything else, Heartbeat emphasises both the individual and collective faith and resilience; that from the ashes of pain there is possible joy to be had. And these monsters: oppression, want and economic strangulation that threaten human dignity and the right of man to live the good life could be overcome if we are willing to impose our will on the environment that breeds them.
Arinola (Zara Abimbola Udofia) suddenly finds herself on the streets after her mother, her only surviving parent, is killed by a criminal gang let loose on the populace by harsh economic reality. Her landlord throws her out for failing to pay up her rent or failing which, refusing to submit herself to his lecherous needs. Then she finds herself at the doorstep of The Academy, a sort of foster home for street kids and the homeless being run by her aunt Mrs. Joku (Tunbosun Aiyedehin); her late mother initiated The Academy’s originally idea until Mrs. Joku took over and polluted it with funds from dubious quarters.
Having lost her mother and the opportunity to go abroad to study, she joins the three fellows already at The Academy: her cousin Bisi (Damilola Kalejaiye), who is jealous of her because Arinola catches the fancy of the guy she has a crush for, File (Kelvin Alozie), a former street gang member. Adimogbia (Federick Ekpu -ICE), a pick up from the streets, whose parents could not be accounted for, complete those in The Academy.
But The Academy soon runs into financial difficulties. With Arinola’s suggestion at exploring the individual talents of the group, they soon overcome that. But The Academy doesn’t quite meet the deep needs of Arinola, who is still bent on going abroad with a scholarship to study fashion. Through File, she begins to see her talent in a new light. But this does not last long as her dream looks too far fetched, the modest accomplishments of The Academy notwithstanding.
When she meets File’s former gang mate Kashi (Toritseju Akiya Ejoh) with whom File had killed and done other nasty things, things begin to change dangerously for Arinola. She soon falls under the revolutionary spells of Kashi, who had also begun to exchange his gang lifestyle for revolutionary fervour. Kashi intends to force a change in the leadership of his country. Kashi, a graduate, had taken to the highway of criminality because of the nation’s unfavourable economic situation.
Now, a changed man, also under the possible influence of Arinola, whose love he must contest with his former gang mate File, he begins to propose a violent means to change from the status quo. It is this change that Arinola falls for as a possible means for millions of youths like her, whose dreams get aborted daily for no fault of their own. But like every revolution, especially the sort the likes of Kashi with a violent past promotes, the imprint of violence is inevitable. Goaded on by her jealousy for Arinola for stealing File from her, Bisi tells Kashi about the source of funding for her mother’s (Mrs. Joku) The Academy.
And, when the time for the revolution comes, The Academy becomes the first victim, the first place Kashi would torch. Kashi accomplishes two things: destroys File’s hideout; he never believes File has changed from his violent past to one of good. Destroying The Academy would also hasten Arinola’s for love him as she would have nowhere to turn. Ironically, it is Kashi’s gang that murdered her mother and rendered her homeless in the first place.
Heartbeat gets its full credit both in its telling dramatic power and the accompanying musical accomplishment. With its opening music not unlike Western love play types between Grace (Sola Onayiga) and Arinola, which also runs through the dramatic narrative combining classical jazz and African contemporary styles, Heartbeat tells its dark story with fleeting moments of joyous relief.
And, when the revolutionary fervour of Kashi falls flat on its face with the violent torching of The Academy and File’s deadly struggle with Kashi, with File drawing his last breath in Arinola’s arms, Arinola finally sees her ideals evaporating; she realizes too late File’s advice that Kashi is the bad news she should never have lent her ears.
Inevitably, while the status quo, which Kashi seeks to overthrow should never have arisen in the first place so as not to throw up such characters like Kashi, and File before he sought a better personality for himself, the play preoccupy itself with sthe means to that change. Repentant Kashi’s revolutionary zeal should have been all right without the violence; but men like Kashi know no other way of getting for themselves the good things of life denied the majority of citizens. It is the deprivations the likes of him suffer daily that push them to the brink; it is what results in the untimely death of Arinola’s mother; it is what pushes Arinola to the streets in a crushing chain reaction that spirals from poor leadership in the country that kills the dreams of her young men and women; it is what breeds loss of hope and faith in the ability of the individual and society to chart new course to redemption.
Yet in all these, Heartbeat places a premium on hope and the continuing resilience of the human spirit. Individuals must not loose hope, it says, else a majority falls into Kashi’s desperate ways. Latent talent (Arinola’s fashion skill and Adimogbia’s singing skill) in the individual as a means of mitigating a harsh environment is emphasised. Such belief in self is supreme; it should never be taken away from the individual, to dream anew.
Also stressed in the play is philanthropy. Nigerians are not nearly as philanthropic enough. If they are it is usually for some political or other reasons not altogether altruistic. The Academy is an approximation of such social revolution of individual gestures to make a change. It is what Arinola asks File: What do you want most, File? ‘I want things to be different,’ he says. But how can things be different with supporting structures like Mrs. Joku’s The Academy to re-orientate warped minds like File or the vagrant life of Adi or Arinola’s loss of innocence and security?
In a harsh environment like ours, Mrs. Joku’s The Academy has its place in taking would-be and hardened deviants from the streets and giving them a new lease of life. This way they would not torment the soul of society like Kashis gang did. For such individuals for whom life has lost meaning, The Academy gives new reasons for living like File does; he almost finds love, too in Arinola.
Heartbeat is a challenge to society both at the individual and group levels to explore alternative means to giving the hopeless reasons for living. And, for the Kashs of this world, there are other ways for their dreams of a better society.
Although at the end, File’s jeans trousers remains unruffled even as his body and T-shirt are burnt, battered and bruised and splattered with blood. Was it a problem of continuity or not wanting to damage a costly costume? Whatever it is, it just wasn’t believable or agreeable.
However, Heartbeat, (to borrow from bestsellers) is a must-see piece of drama; if not for the love of drama but for its music. And, for those who find the two agreeable, there is the promise of a feast as the actors delivered flawlessly, superbly; the emotional tension was wire-taut.
So much so that for stage and screen icon Joke Silver, Heartbeat is it. “I loved it, loved it very much,” she said, not unlike a model savouring with relish the taste of his favourite drink after a spell of thirst with eyes closed. Such was the power the play had over her at its first outing Saturday November 5, 2009, and all who saw it.
A Series Of Unfortunate Events
Tuesday, December 15th, 2009
By Adewole Ajala
A scene from heartbeat…
As the pre-run viewing of the Tosin Otudeko’s play Heartbeat opened to a packed house in Ikoyi, Lagos,  the musical tale performed by the Garden Theatre came with doses of bliss, prevarication and the search for identity.
The dimly lit stage displays a sign that reads ‘Heartbreak Avenue’. This is followed by the entry of a young lady clutching a bundle of clothes. She is also in tears and this caps a disturbed look which evokes pity from the audience. Her search leads to the ‘hope academy’ where she collapses in a heap.
Her name is Arinola (Zara Abimbola Udofia) and she is carried indoors by the trio of File (Kelvin Alozie), Adimogbia (Frederick Ekpu) and Bisi (Damilola Kalejaiye).
Her entry into this sanctuary commences the organic plot of the play which is rife with tales of love, lies and the search for self.
The proprietor of the academy is Mama Jay (Tubonsun Aiyedehin), Bisi’s mother and Arinola’s aunt. Throwbacks give a peek into the origin of each character’s present predicament.
Arinola lost her mum (Sola Onayiga) to a burglar’s stray bullet, File used to be a street disciple while Adimogbia does not have an inkling of where his parents are. This unearths a setting which devours dreams but there is some respite for the haven’s inhabitants who revel in their short-lived happiness and hope for better days.
Love exists next to hate and the thin line between these mindsets is shown in the relationship between Arinola and Bisi. Both girls are cousins but as soon as File’s affections tend to Arinola, her cousin Bisi takes offence. This commences a mental conflict between both parties and soon enough cracks start to appear. Struggle also fits into the formula as street touts Kashi (Toritseju Akiya Ejoh) and Ekolo (Aliu Olanrewaju Olatunji) burst the bubble of the academy’s semblance of peace with a bundle of lies. Their efforts add to the series of unfortunate events that envelope everyone in its wake. There can be no other conclusion for people who choose to build their castles in the sky and their preference for inaction ends with bloody consequences.
Everything is a lie or so it seems. Even the famous academy was built via fraudulent burns to the ground at the end making you long for the comic relief of Adumogbia whose first love is food.
The denouement to the play comes after File’s attempts to stop a pyromaniac go wrong. He is consumed by the inferno and dies in Arinola’s arms giving a touching end to the two-hour play and expectations for their love.
But the play is not just about tears as highlights of the piece includes the vocal prowess of the characters and an infectious choreography which goes in tandem with the wonderful tunes of a music team that does justice to memorable soundtracks like Voice in the Wind, Hope, Just Believe, Oya, Season, Secret, Hold it Back, Who Would’ve Thought and The Day- diverse tunes which cut jazz, African contemporary and classical genres while altering the various moods belying the play. The pre-run viewing is the start of an extensive production journey to develop a long running musical by the artistic director Tosin Otudeko and with the success of the premiere that might happen sooner than expected.
A Search for Identity
Adewole Ajao, 12.12.2009
The pre-run viewing of the play Heartbeat by the Garden Theatre saw a musical tale powered by love, lies and the search for self, writes Adewole Ajao
The signage on the dimly lit stage reads Heartbreak Avenue and soon enough this tag lives up to its billing as a young lady emerges on stage and collapses in a bundle of tears. Her name is Arinola (played by Zara Abimbola Udofia) and her woe have led her to the Hope Academy where a group clad in similar clothing carry her indoors. Unlike this visitor to their sanctuary, the trio of Bisi (Damilola Kalejaiye), Adimogbia (Frederick Ekpu) and File (Kelvin Alozie) are in high spirits. This scenario sets the pace for the play Heartbeats at the Okoya-based venue in the upscale Ikoyi area.

Through various throwbacks the author reflects a diverse setting which has seen Arinola’s mother Grace (Sola Onayiga) falling victim to the bullets of a trigger-happy burglar. Her death blows a hole in her quest for employment as she misses a test that might have earned her a fashion scholarship to push her dreams. This is just the first in her series of unfortunate events as she becomes homeless after escaping the clutches of a randy landlord who wants to take advantage of her solitary situation.
The only place left for her is the shelter of her aunt Mrs Joku (Tunbosun Aiyedehin) and her entry into this enclave commences the journey into a musical tale of faith, hope, love and struggle. This is not peculiar to her alone as others face overwhelming odds in pushing their dreams.

File is torn between a return to his dark past, Adimogba is hoping to reunite with his long-lost parents while Bisi is also seeking greater closeness to her mother Mrs Joku. Their relationship is similar to that which existed between Mrs Joku and Bisi’s mother as the sisters were always at loggerheads over various matters-a conflict that does not end with Grace’s death. Mrs Joku is always haunted by this fact and keeps it away from Arinola along with some other dark secrets.
While everyone is content not to rock the boat love takes over. Bisi has been infatuated with File but the entry of Arinola into the scene alters the symmetry of his feelings. Bisi is far from impressed with this impromptu competition and waits to enact her revenge on an oblivious Arinola who has been convinced to return to her earlier dreams. Adimogbia’s first love is food and while the others jostle for affection, he is content to direct his energies to comic relief and food.
Good things do not last forever though as street touts Kashi (Toritseju Akiya Ejoh) and Ekolo (Aliu Olanrewaju Olatunji) gradually inject their gloom into the peace of the academy. Masquerading as change agents they shake the foundations of the virtues that hold the academy and its occupants together after employing lies and flattery.

There is also a later disclosure that the institution was built via fraudulent means, a revelation which increases the division that has already set into the peaceful dwelling. This sees Arinola fancying her chances with the socialites but fortunately she is brought back to reality after the academy is burnt to the ground by Kashi and his cohorts after help from an oblivious Bisi.
Symbolic is the way each academy member is taken care of by the hoodlums. With each pillar of the fortress taken off, the whole house comes crashing down. The antagonists start with the weakest of the pack until they get to the strongest leaving Arinola foraging the burnt remains. Bisi and Adimogbia escape with minor injuries but File loses his life after a touching reunion with Arinola who ends the play with a tearful goodbye to her unrequited lover as his scorched remains lie in her quivering arms.

Highlights of the two-hour piece include the vocal prowess of the characters and their infectious choreography which goes in sync the wonderful tunes of a music team that did justice to memorable soundtracks like “Hope”, “Just Believe”, “Oya”, “Season”, Thought Melody, Voice in the Wind, Secret, Hold it “Back”, “Who Would’ve Thought” and “The Day- songs” which cut across a range of genres while altering the various moods of the play.
This varied music repertoire has jazz, classical and African contemporary tunes jostling for prominence in your sensibilities while ensuring a dearth of interludes.
The pre-run viewing is the first stage in an extensive production journey to develop a long running musical by the artistic director Tosin Otudeko and with the success of the premiere it might well achieve its aim of perfecting the vision.

Pre-production News
http://thenationonlineng.net/web2/articles/28627/1/–Heartbeats-hits-the-stage/Page1.html
Heartbeats hits the stage

Theatre lovers are in for a great time soon as a new musical play, ‘Heartbeats’ is staged. Written, produced and directed by Tosin Otudeko, an arts lover and enthusiast, the play aims to bring a different dimension to stage productions in the country. For Otudeko, choosing the medium of a musical to pass her message across was due to her love of such plays in her childhood. “I’ve always enjoyed musicals as a young girl because of my granddad,” she stated. “He used to have a lot of tapes which I loved watching. Also, I’ve always been interested in all the different elements of the performing arts like dance, drama, poetry, acting. I’m an aspiring actor. So, it’s a way of putting the different aspects together.”
The play, as she noted has as focus, hope and the belief in one’s self and capabilities in the face of all odds. “It’s about a young girl trying to find her dream inspite of overwhelming odds, in the midst of great odds. The challenges and difficulties in the environment she tries to live in, and her efforts to maintain hope in such an environment,” said Otudeko. She added: “The message of the play is that of hope, of love and of believing in yourself when all doors seemed to be shut against you, in your face. Being able to hold on to every thread of possitivity that you can still hold on. You can carry on moving even when things around you are crumbling.
On what inspired the play, she said: “I got the inspiration for the play when I was at work one day and I thought I had to write a musical about the homeless. The first time the play was staged was about four years ago in my church in London. But since then, I’ve been fine-tuning the play.”
Putting up the production has been challenging as she explained. “Getting the right team and resources together can be a challenge. In terms of cast, I’ve worked with some of them before so I know what they can do on stage.
Directing the play has also been very difficult. I try to get advice from more experienced people. I’m trying to learn on the job. I did a three months acting course for my own acting passion. I’m in this for the long run