Soyinka comedy gets dramatised for students
One of Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka's most popular plays, the comedy The Lion and The Jewel, is having a run - until today - at the Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts (PSCCA), Mona. The presentation by the University Dramatic Arts Society (UDAS) is being enjoyed by hundreds of high-school students from across the island who are studying the play for their CSEC exams.
The delight it gives is partly because of the production's excellence; it is well directed and acted - by Tyane Robinson and a dozen or so university students, respectively. The other part of its attraction comes from its being quite naughty.
There are numerous references to the sex act, for seduction is a central theme. Every reference elicited peals of laughter from the teenagers who packed the PSCCA last Friday morning for the opening performance. In the main, they came from the fourth and fifth forms of Ardenne, Glenmuir and Papine high schools.
They heard a story which, judging from the comments during the show, they knew well. The main characters, residents of a Nigerian village, are Lakunle, a teacher (played by Jomo Dixon), Sidi (Rohanna Bolton), a pretty young woman whom he wants to marry, Baroka, a rich 'ginnal', and Sadiku, his chief wife.
Claiming to be progressive, Lakunle is a strong advocate for the abolition of the custom of men paying a bridal fee to the bride's family. "In these modern times, women should not be bought and sold like cattle", he states. His stance is probably also because he is stingy, and certainly he has a double standard: he doesn't think young women, no matter how modern, should show their bare shoulders in public.
Initially, Sidi, who is not at all taken with Lakunle, might nevertheless marry him if he pays the full bride fee, but when her friends bring the news that she has been featured in a popular magazine, she suddenly feels Lakunle is not worthy of her.
She is also reluctant to accept Baroka's invitation to supper, as it's well known that any virgin who dines with him ends up in his bed. But by tricking both Sadiku and Sidi, Baroka does manage to seduce the latter. Though devastated at first, as the play closes, Sidi is voluntarily going off to marry Baroka, and it seems that things will turn out okay for her.
The play is cleverly plotted and it is a joy to see the characters, all with their own goals in mind, trying to outwit one another. One always has the feeling, though, that Baroka, an Anancy-like character, will win in the end. Is Soyinka making a comment here on man-woman relationships?
One of the charms of the production is the naturalness of the acting and in a post-performance chat, The Gleaner asked Robinson how he went about directing his cast. Robinson said he called on his knowledge of linguistics, his area of study for a master's degree he is currently pursuing, and did further research into the "street play" style employed in Yoruban theatre.
Becoming the character
This led to Robinson insisting that the cast know their roles thoroughly and "getting inside" the characters as they moved about the stage and delivered their lines.
"They first had to read the script," Robinson said, "and answer the questions, 'Who am I?' and 'What am I?' And I told them to ignore the stage directions and move around as they thought the characters would in their everyday lives."
In the brief discussion session which followed the performance, the first question that the director had for the audience was, "Did you enjoy it?"
"Yes!" came the enthusiastic response. Assembled on the stage, Robinson and the cast were clearly pleased.
When questioned after the show, Papine high school teacher Yvonne Raffington and her English literature students, Tanisha Headad and Ishanay Millwood, also said they were happy with the play they had just seen. "It's a really good production, well put together," said Miss Raffington.