LIVE theatre can transport one from this world to the underworld and the hereafter. Life on stage can be magical in a manner that can be quite overwhelming.

It is in its determination to put theatre back on the front burner of the Nigerian scheme of things that Chams Plc initiated the Chams Theatre Series last year with the production of the adaptation and translation of D.O. Fagunwa’s novel, Ogboju Ode Ninu Igbo Irunmale (Forest of a Thousand Daemons).

The play was produced in English and Yoruba to packed audiences in the Nigerian cities of Abuja, Ife, Ibadan and Lagos. The second year of the Chams Theatre Series is about to kick off in Lagos, Abuja, Ibadan and Akure this November with a masterful production of Fagunwa’s Ireke Onibudo.

As in last year’s edition, the English adaptation has been undertaken by Professor Femi Osofisan while the Yoruba version is in the able hands of Professor Akinwunmi Isola.

Osofisan’s adaptation is titled The Fabulous Adventures of the Sugarcane Man and is directed by the resourceful Dr Tunde Awosanmi.

It was indeed a special privilege to witness the dress rehearsal of the play recently at the fabled University of Ibadan theatre.

The self-effacing patron of the arts and managing director of Chams Plc, Mr. Demola Aladekomo, stresses, “the Chams Theatre Series is a strategic intervention and contribution of Chams Plc to the rejuvenation of the Arts and stage culture in Nigeria.”

The card industry guru insists that the company sponsors the theatre performances as a means of promoting culture and re-orienting Nigerians to the values the citizens ought to hold dear. “We believe those values should propel action in our society,” he asserts.

The grand appeal of the Chams Theatre Series has led to the Ondo State Government initiating partnership with Chams to present performances of Ireke Onibudo in the state capital, Akure.

Governor Olusegun Mimiko has thus done honour to Fagunwa, the distinguished son of Yorubaland whose roots are traceable to present day Ondo State.

The play deals with the tumultuous life of Ireke, the eponymous Sugarcane Man tossed hither and thither in the wake of squandering his patrimony through paternal profligacy and wanton philandering.

After so much trouble the hero finds redemption through love. According to the author of the Yoruba stage adaptation, Professor Isola, “In his characteristic literary style of proudly exhibiting his gift of flowery language and strength of riveting description, Fagunwa in Ireke Onibudo weaves a complex story from the rich materials he had acquired from at least three different sources: Yoruba folktales, literary works in English and Christian religious literature.”

The work has a loose structure and is quite episodic, using an experienced storyteller to narrate themes laden with vices and virtues, vengeance and retribution, womanly wiles, household treachery, footloose polygamy, mind-bending suffering and triumphal love.

Prof Osofisan, who serves as the consultant to the Chams Theatre Series as well as the author of the English adaptation, reveals that Ireke Onibudo was chosen ahead of Fagunwa’s second novel, Igbo Olodumare, because it “places more emphasis on exploring the capabilities of the ordinary man and woman in the grim struggle of survival that we each have to face everyday. That is why perhaps, instead of magical stunts, what we have for the most part are a succession of fables, folk-tales and animal stories, each of which presents a paradigm of our human condition.”

The Ireke Onibudo offering is to the extent of shunning the otherworldly a marked remove from the magical world of the play of the first edition, Ogboju Ode.

If Igbo Olodumare had been chosen it would have meant ploughing the same terrain as in Ogboju Ode.

Plans are afoot by the sponsors to give out tickets for the performances to lucky students selected from various schools in the locations where the plays would be staged.

This way, the young ones would from the very beginning be groomed in the mores of the theatre and the moral benefits.

Through the theatre series Chams Plc has put in employment well over one hundred theatre artistes for about three months every year.

In the ennobling words of the consultant Osofisan, “The Chams company deserves every commendation for its sponsorship of such a grand cultural undertaking. This is very unique, and boldly unusual, in Nigeria’s experience of art sponsorships. Most of the time nowadays all the money goes to musical jamborees and comedy shows rather than serious or cerebral activities. But Chams has chosen instead to give its support to the revival and promotion of our cultural heritage, threatened, as we all know, by the erosion of the global media. We salute their courage, their patriotism, and their vision.”(Uzor Maxim Uzoatu, Guardian Newspapers)