James Ebo Whyte’s latest effort, Sankofa, teaches a thing or two about love and respect for one another. Explored further, it also offers a gentle persuasion of society’s various shifts.
Set in the Oriental Hotel of Australia, Sankofa is the playwright’s attempt to tackle the numerous cultural diversities of many worlds: Ghana, the primary school.
Handled by an impressive Ghanaian-heavy cast, the play debuted on the last weekend of August, 2016, and bursts with tributaries of worrying eccentricities that are yet to be crumbled at their circuits.
In Sankofa, there is a tormenting reminder that the world L.O.V.E is still letterly, and a luxury only those of different cultural coordinates, other than Ghana, can afford. How it found its way into Sankofa and why Ghana became the perfect telling example, is an apparent theme that do not require hagiographies to establish.
The inspiration behind Sankofa dates to an Ebo Whyte 80s tale of a young man who was “written off” but later became ‘somebody’. And it translates into a fine drama that loops its way into many tolerances, again, here, Ghana being one of many focal points.
Sankofa maintains a fluff-free cast who masterly curated the premise to perfect execution, it becomes very difficult to single out one as being the star actor or actress. Each cast brought into their respective roles a decent interpretation of drama that begins and ends with their knack for effortless precision.
When a University drop out found himself in another cultural setting, it would become his surest way to re-tell a story that had once been called mundane. Later, he becomes a Nobel-winning Laureate who was to be honoured by the same University professor who failed him in school because he “just didn’t like him”.
The not-liking-him was not just. It was far larger than that; it was a potpourri of hatred sliced with intemperate attitude that is informed and shaped by a cultural setting that “fails students at all cost”.
When probed, the drop out was failed in school because he went after the Professor’s daughter, Esther.
The drop out, who later became Professor Ferguson, was played by Andrew Adote. Adote is gradually becoming an Ebo Whyte delight-to-watch. In Sankofa, he slithers, hops and finally wheels into his role in a manner that renders along.
With two extremely amusing yet irritating characters in Professor Hardy and Professor Danso, both, his Professors from the University of Africa (set in Accra) that failed him, he moves from being a gentle soul to a fine giant around whose neck the entire story is woven.
At the Oriental Hotel where he was to be given an award by Hardy, also referred to as Ato by his colleague Professor, Danso, a reckless abundance of folly is exposed, Ferguson being the abuse subject.
Hardy and Danso would arrive at the Hotel to cancelled rooms even though the former swore he had booked. They would later be helped out by Ferguson who confides in the hotel manager not to let the two mathematics professors know he’s done them the honours.
Even after ensuring their stay was fruitful ahead of the citation presentation, they subject Ferguson to constant abuse where he went from being called a ‘square root of zero’ to a ‘Fibonacci sequence’. At certain times, he was either a ‘decimal fraction’ or a ‘useless coefficient.’ Ferguson kept his cool.
When Danso and Hardy are finally told the young, ‘useless trapezium’ they’ve been denigrating all along was the same Professor Ferguson they’re to award the citation to, they are left completely sullen.
Shortly, Hardy, would discover that Ferguson was the same guy he once pounced on for going after his daughter Esther. To his further shock, Ferguson was husband to Esther (but that didn’t happen without a struggle as Hardy just couldn’t come to terms with the fact that she was married to Ferguson), who had a sorry story of a father who struggled to utter the words ‘I LOVE YOU’ to her, to tell.
Hardy’s woes, fell to Ferguson, an opportunity to launch into a sermon of love, why Esther had to disappoint Hardy by not choosing a career path he wanted, and how she had been reduced to nothing.
Still unrepentant, Hardy accuses Ferguson of being behind Esther’s hatred for him. He would later apologize when Ferguson tells him he is the one reason his daughter’s alive. Esther had substance abuse issues but went through it to become a published author thanks to Ferguson’s counselling.
In Hardy’s folly, Danso found a respite. While the banter went on, Danso would excuse himself to place a call to his son asking him to stick to a career path of his choice. In a back and forth, dad-son session on the phone, Danso’s son would ask him why the sudden switch in thoughts and whether he was dying since the latter was surprised at the turn of events. Danso would finally attempt to say something he’s not told him before: ‘I love you’ to naught. In there, Ebo Whyte addresses a Ghanaian family setting deficiency.
Esther makes an appearance at the Oriental Hotel in a wheelchair due to an accident she had from substance abuse. She reunites with her Mathematics Professor Husband Ferguson. Straightaway, they stage a love melodrama of a swinging-wheelchair that also involved working out some equations on the side.
The coefficients and the decimals are awoken; not Hardy’s type. He reciprocates the gesture. But that was before he was made to profess his love with Einstein’s theory of relativity; E=mc 2. They both go for a chair-swinging, isosceles triangle PDA that was so infectious Hardy and Danso blushed.
Hardy and Danso would later make an entry with a song about forgiveness (Slim Buster’s M’asan Aba), asking Esther to forgive Hardy.
Father and daughter would go back and forth on how their relationship went from bad to worse. Hardy apologizes and is later asked by Esther to formally bless the union between her and Ferguson. It is heeded and rightly done. Esther and Ferguson would later crown their short ceremony with Steve Turner’s “Amazing Grace”.
The rather aggressive Hardy becomes calm as a baby, he left his bosom friend Professor Danso wondering.
Hardy (Bella Djibrillah) and Danso (Obed Amu) bring to Sankofa two inimitably priceless gifts that are simply riveting. While Hardy provides the annoying fun, Danso is your typical University Professor who is a by-product of too many books, he disses and hisses at sight. The chemistry the two exhibited in Sankofa is to die for; it should be the dream of every Playwright. Whether they are forming a union to cut some inconsequential X Axis into form or they are yanking off a useless binary, both, make Sankofa a must-have.
Sankofa is an excellent attempt to tell a rather complex story in a way that leaves very little unattended to. Across many swathes, Ebo Whyte is able to channel as many intended strands as possible within crafts engineered by actors and actresses who themselves may have had real life situations or experimentations around the subject.
In the end, we a see a leitmotif with a beautiful ending because it couldn’t have afforded to be ugly.
Sankofa scores high on music. From how Shatta Wale’s ‘Hol’ it’ and Flavour/Sarkodie’s ‘Finally’ were used to prank Hardy and Danso over food, to Labi Siffre’s ‘Something Inside So Strong’, Edem’s ‘Nzedzilo’ and Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers’ ‘Bustin’ Loose’, they blended in perfectly.
There are original Ghanaian moments, too, such as when Hardy reminded some staff of Oriental Hotel how “food like Fufu can’t be eaten with cutlery, else it loses something.” That, too, is true.
And then there is Hardy cutting short his academic titles because he was reminded that the citation announcement was dragging. He spends some five more minutes and promises to listen to the plea of the organizers. That, too, is an original Ghana moment.
But it is the smatterings of Ebo Whyte that echoes in Sankofa that makes it convincingly his. When Ferguson sermonizes about love and why it shouldn’t be traded for anything, that is the same Ebo Whyte we know on radio and in the monthly magazines.
Sankofa lived a quintessential Ebo Whyte, the one that creates masterpieces out of useless coefficients who stand tall to become X and Y Axes of substance.