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Ryan Recommends: Death and the King’s Horseman

Wole Soyinka – Death and the King’s Horseman

In this examination of Nigerian colonialism and what follows it, a man meant to sacrifice himself for the passing of a great king is interrupted by British forces who seek to save his life without knowing the symbolic nature of the death. This beautifully written piece is relevant to both the ever present climate of “colony-vs-colonized” unrest in Canada; and to the continuing Westernization of media and history. In that sense, it reminded me a lot of another great work from Nigeria, Chinua Achebe’s novel Things Fall Apart. In this piece as well, we have not only a hero doomed to tragedy, but an entire way of life and a culture doomed to tragedy because of the dominating force of Western influence. What I find most interesting, though, is that neither of these works is interested in specifically choosing a side. Neither explicitly tells us that the entrance of the Western people is a force for good or bad, simply that it puts into motion a paradigm shift that is very alienating for the Nigerian people.

The dialogue is quite difficult, repetitive and ritualistic at the beginning, but this transforms into a very easy-to-understand drama that can provoke a great discussion. It is almost as if the play itself is forced to adapt to colonization, as its form turns from a sort of dance ceremony into nearly becoming a conventional well-made play. However, I believe something is lost in that transformation. We move from lyricism to plot. We move from forces to characters. We move from summoning to staging. Both of these halves of the play have their own merits and worth, but in the midst of one, I found myself yearning for the other. To me, that means the show has really done its job. Incredibly highly recommended, and I’d love to see a staging of it.

Casting: 3F, 9M plus singers and dancers

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