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‘Death and the King’s Horseman’, Soyinka’s timeless drama piece, stages at Terra Kulture this festive season

If you have never seen ‘Death and the King’s Horseman’, an enthralling and evergreen drama piece by Wole Soyinka, Nobel Laureate and foremost Nigeria literary icon, you need to do so, especially if you are a theatre art lover or student.

While the play scarcely stages because of the stellar cast and theatrical assemblage it requires for effective interpretation and bringing to live the drama, lovers of stage performances now have the opportunity to see the drama piece once again.

Meanwhile, the Bolanle Austen-Peters Productions (BAP), a leading art and creative production company has been staging the drama at the ultramodern Terra Kulture Arena, Tiamiyu Savage Street, Victoria Island, Lagos, since Boxing Day. The play runs from December 26, 2021, to January 3, 2022.

The production company is also offering would-be viewers the opportunity to see the drama at their convenience for the nine days it will stage with 3 pm and 7 pm time slots each day.

The play, which was premiered first on March 1975 at the 1,200 capacity Vivian Beaumont Theater in Manhattan, New York, is based on a real incident that took place in Nigeria during British colonial rule and the Second World War of the early 1940s.

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Set in the old Oyo Kingdom, ‘Death and the King’s Horseman’ emphasizes the cultural heritage, which entails a chief to voluntarily die when a king passes on. As the drama flows, it also showcases the rich cultural heritage of the people, especially dance and language.

As the tradition demands, the King’s horseman known as ‘Elesin Oba’ must commit suicide before the burial of the late Alafin in order for the Elesin’s spirit to precede and clear the way for the transition of the Alafin’s spirit.

A cultural dialogue ensues when information gets to Mr Pilking, the British Colonial Administrator who sees the age-long tradition as quaint and repugnant. His intervention and subsequent arrest of the Elesin Oba at the climax of the rites of passage set off multi-facet tragic trajectories and dislocations within the Oyo Kingdom. Olunde, the first son of the Elesin, a medical student in England who returns to bury his father as tradition demands, commits suicide to fill the void left by his father’s arrest. But the intrigue for the excited audience at any theatre the play stages is that Elesin still takes his own life in his captivity when the natives present the corpse of his son to him.

The play seeks to explore the tragic consequences associated with diminished sensibility and understanding of intercultural behaviour, communication and tolerance, especially during the British Colonial era in Nigeria.

The thematic relevance of the play in present-day Nigeria where youths are adrift in social media could be found in Olunde’s choice of honour, self-sacrifice and patriotism in contradiction to the Elesin and the Pilkings’ arrogance, self-preservation and sacrilege.

Beyond its many theatrical feats, the play is now moving on with a much more global audience target, especially with the recent announcement by EbonyLife that the play is under development to be adapted into a film.

“Work and planning continue with EbonyLife Films development of our upcoming feature film ‘Death and the King’s Horseman’. EbonyLife Films has acquired the rights to make this incredible work into a feature film for global distribution”, Mo Abudu, CEO, EbonyLife Television, who made the announcement on her Instagram page @moabudu sometime ago, said.

“We will continue to change the narrative and tell our stories. Lord we thank you for the incredible opportunities you give,” she assured.

The Nigerian movie industry awaits the film, which many stakeholders believe will be a sold-out like most movies by EbonyLife. As well, cinema owners and movie distribution companies are already lobbying to get a share of Soyinka’s ‘Death and the King’s Horseman’, which is going to be a money-spinner soon.

Meanwhile, BAP awaits your visit to see the exciting play at Terra Kulture Arena this festive season.

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