Review: Ebo Whyte’s “One Million Pounds”.

Pounds shterling

Not a lot of people like stage plays and that’s not surprising. In this world where so many of us have been desensitized by movies and TV shows, a stage play is one of the last true forms of pure expressionism…but almost forgotten.

Theatre might be fading away but until then, it has and will always captivate audiences with thrilling stories and deep real-time characterizations; something the other dramatic art forms can’t replicate or deliver.

The venerable Uncle Ebo Whyte is hailed in Ghana (and abroad) as the singular and greatest playwright this generation has seen. With all the plays and accolades to show, Uncle Ebo Whyte is a powerhouse indeed…but prior to my viewing of his latest play, One Million Pounds, I had not seen any of his previous plays.
My colleagues consider that unforgivable.
So guess what I did when I got a free ticket?
Yup! I got my butt off my office chair and into a comfy seat in National Theatre.

I’ve heard nothing but great things about Uncle Ebo Whyte’s plays…especially from my “workplays” and since I was new to the world of Uncle Ebo Whyte, I went in there expecting a lot but open enough as not to be too critical.
It was my first time after all and with no actual frame of reference, aside the emphatic praise from my colleagues, I indeed had to keep a very open mind.

I think I’ve nailed the intro, so let’s get to it:
Pièce de résistance.

 

The Review –

“One Million Pounds is an inspiring stage-play that tells a story of what happened when four talented Ghanaians embark on a journey of a lifetime to partake in the maiden edition of a contest that may be the key to their success.”
It is a story of determination, sticking it to the “man” who wants to put you down and never giving up…even in the face of severe adversities.

This story, whiles simple, highlights a lot of issues plaguing the African society.
I won’t spoil much in the way of the story but what I will say is, it blends a lot of themes and issues that have unfortunately become the best descriptors for Africa; Bribery, Corruption and Sabotage.

Money has led many astray and it always has a way of crippling the hearts of the most well-intentioned individuals. Businesses fall and relationships die…and in One Million Pounds, the four talented Ghanaians (Jama) experience firsthand what money can do to a man when their manager sells them out.

This all feels like something you might have read in the newspapers, and that is so because, it is commonplace in Ghana and Africa. So when one goes to watch something with such a troubling but true theme, one would expect to come away from the play with a renewed sense of patriotism and ‘un-corruptness’.
Nope! I got none of that.
It did nothing to engender me to do something about it and I left the same way I came; apathetic.

On the other hand, there were a lot of encouraging statements from the casts, but at this point it is something viewers have come to expect…so there are no real surprises there.

“Don’t give up on your dreams…and such.” – Normal Stuff.

The story is by no mean an intelligent one but I’ve got to cut Uncle Ebo Whyte some slack since he aims to write plays the general public can easily relate to.
No need to write an intellectual story that might fly over the heads of audiences.
That’s not to say Ghanaians are dumb but that’s the picture local movies and TV shows paint all the time;
All fluff and no substance.

There’s the straight-shooting hero, his love interest, the unreliable friend, the obnoxious villain and the issues that will miraculously get resolved in the end. Watching this play elicits a strong sense of Déjà vu; typical plot points and typical conflicts.

“This is where it gets ugly!”

The simplicity inherent in the story carries through to every part of the play.
If one is hailed as the best playwright this side of the continent and with competition virtually nonexistent, then it’s no surprise for such an individual to rest on his laurels and get complacent.

There’s nothing breathtaking about the play, and after watching it, the only thing that hurriedly comes to mind was the very obnoxious “Cliff” (or the person playing that character).
Cliff, an eccentric Caucasian Brit, shrieked through his lines…barely making anything he said understandable.
It was utterly unintelligible and grating to the ear and apparently, audiences didn’t like it either.
So it makes me wonder if the actors rehearse with microphones or not…because if they do, they should have heard  his banshee-like screeches but if they realized and still went ahead with his deafening squeals, then it is safe to say they wanted us deaf.

The play left little to the imagination and it was delivered bare-boned with nothing mind-stimulating about it.
Ladies and Gentlemen, let the brain-hamsters rest a while because there’s no need for them here.
Those looking for something a little more on the clever-side should lower their expectations.

The story, although nice, offered nothing new to the primary issues it tackles. This isn’t a masterfully crafted tale but a story I believe will be a weak entry from Uncle Ebo Whyte.
Some scenes were too drawn out…and I ended up playing with my phone (doing nothing) far often than I liked.

The venerable Uncle Ebo Whyte looking very dapper.

The venerable Uncle Ebo Whyte looking very dapper.

I did love the acting though.
As far as acting, theatre is the way to go…and the cast in One Million Pounds did a stellar job…save for Cliff (or the guy playing the character). It did get hammy in some scenes but that is something that can be overlooked bearing in mind these are actors and actresses new to the Roverman roster.
It is always refreshing to see such talent in Ghana…considering the terrible actors we have on the big screen.

It was the singing that partially marred the otherwise perfect acting experience for me. Some were OK but others were abysmal…especially when trying to hit the higher notes.
The voices strained a lot and I cringed about as often…and sometimes I couldn’t hear what was being sung.

During the singing sessions, lyrics to the songs would be projected on the walls for the audience.
It is a novel idea that should have fixed the issue of not hearing what was being sung…but even that had some inconsistencies.
During the musical numbers, either the projected lyrics will trail behind the singer or run ahead like Oscar Pistorius escaping from prison…forcing me to think this is something Roverman hasn’t quite mastered. But after seven years of being in business (theatre), some mistakes are just awful to behold…even if they don’t ruin the experience for some.

Uncle Ebo Whyte has “perfected” his craft and to say he is just a great writer would be a great disservice to him but sometimes throwing nice words around to flatter comes at a cost of pure honesty…so I will suck it up and put it out there.
The humor in One Million Pounds is the kind I’ve come to expect; safe jokes.
“Nothing naughty here.”
Safe jokes, according to my definition, are the kind that appeal to the masses.
Jokes everyone will laugh to…and the bad thing about safe jokes is, they are rarely clever.
You don’t have to think hard (or at all) to get it…and that is the kind prominently featured in the play.
Not once did an esoteric joke ‘break out”.

I sat through the entire play without laughing.
Not even a little.

That’s not to say the jokes are bad. No…people laughed their heads off and I even smiled occasionally but I found nothing remotely clever about the jokes.

Uncle Ebo Whyte, I’m not saying you have to litter your plays with esoteric jokes…but do throw one in there once in a while, so the people who appreciate such jokes would know you are thinking about them too.
I know I would.

On the topic of humor, not all the jokes were funny though, and I particularly found one joke to be in very poor taste…especially coming from Uncle Ebo Whyte.
The character Cliff wears a shoulder-level wig and is quite eccentric…as previously stated.
In one scene he makes a risqué statement to a female cast member and as expected, she gets riled up and slaps the fool…but something happens; his nose falls off.

Obviously, Uncle Ebo Whyte is taking jabs at the late Michael Jackson, who was alleged to have had a fake nose. It was in bad taste…and as such, few people laughed (although I believe they didn’t get the joke.)

Trending issues in the country are also touched on in the play. Like the president’s new name and Obinim’s animal transformations…but even though it was fun to hear these things in the play, once again, they were not used as cleverly as one would expect.
The inclusion of these jokes felt forced…and added only to make the play seem current and ‘hip’.

roverman-logo

 

In Conclusion

Creativity can get stifled sometimes when you either keep doing the same thing or get stuck in a rut…or expecting a breakthrough when there’s nothing actively pushing that next level of creativity.
Uncle Ebo Whyte may not be hogtied to either one but if this is what I’m to expect from all plays written and executed by him, then I have to further reduce my expectations if I am to truly enjoy his work.

In the end, “One Million Pounds” is just another play easily forgotten not for lack of great actors and actresses…but because it tells an unremarkable story.
The acting was topnotch, the musical numbers hit or miss and the moral values uninspiring.

Diehard fans will appreciate it no matter what…but for new recruits like myself, One Million Pounds isn’t worth the price of admission.
★★☆☆☆ (2/5)