Even though writer-actor Dan Hoyle calls his one-man show a “distillation” of the Niger Delta, he doesn’t oversimplify in order to educate. And even though there are too many characters, and half of them are speaking in Pidgin (an informal street dialect born from a need to communicate in a country of 250 languages), Hoyle and director Charlie Varon are confident in their choice to challenge the audience, and they do it with charm.
From 2005 to 2006 Dan Hoyle was a Fulbright scholar studying the politics of oil in Nigeria. Tings Dey Happen grew out of his interactions with everyone from the American Ambassador and international workers at Shell and Exxon, to prostitutes in the streets and young men engaged in guerilla warfare. Hoyle plays numerous characters, each of them re-enacting real conversations, interviews, and interactions with Hoyle himself. This is the Niger Delta as he experienced it: loud, fast, confusing, unrelenting and aggressive. Sylvanus, the “stage manager” and consistent comic relief, narrates Hoyle’s travels through Lagos (New York, Sylvanus jokes to the audience, is the Lagos of America) to the small villages of Nembe Creek and Escarvos, which are home to large Shell and Chevron flow stations, along with excessive violence and poverty.
Considering Nigeria is the fifth-largest oil supplier to the U.S. and that 80% of Nigerian income comes from oil, it is worth being aware of what you’re really paying for at the pump: the management of war. The true citizens of Nigeria are the oil majors — Shell, Chevron, Exxon. Among the confusion in Hoyle’s portrayal of a troubled Nigeria, this much, at least, is clear.