Death and the Kings Horsemen

Wole Soyinka’s play, “Death and the King’s Horseman, is based on actual events occurring in British-occupied Nigeria. The play focuses around the duty of Elesin, the King’s Horseman, to commit suicide in the wake of the King’s death the month before. It is the duty of British Colonial District Officer Simon Pilkings to stop him. Cheered and egged on by his friends and fellow Yoruba tribesmen and women, Elesin knows it is his duty to die, so that he can guide the King in the afterlife. Pilkings and the British consider the act barbaric and illegal They consider all life sacred, so they aim to stop him.


Elesin’s last day on Earth is enjoyable, as he marries a young girl for his last earthly pleasure. But, his will to die weakens because of this, and he does not want to die. Pilking’s entry gives Elesin a way out. Elesin is arrested, and he blames his misfortunes on everyone, but ultimately comes to accept responsibility that he has shirked his own duty. In order to save the honor of the household and the tribe, Elesin’s son Olunde commits suicide in his father’s place. Stricken with shame and grief, Elesin commits suicide using his prison chains.


James Amuta

Poet. Filmmaker. Adventurer.

Death and the King’s Horseman

Novels are written for the page. And plays are written for the stage. No matter how many times you read a play, you need to see it come alive on stage before you can fully appreciate the beauty of the words you’ve read.


Drama is a religion. And the stage is where the true believers go on a creative pilgrimage. The stage is where you go to experience the purity of drama; to be baptized by the Trinity – the unity of time, space, and action. When a play comes together nicely on stage, a dove hovers over your head – and now, you’ve been touched.


But when you come to this altar, there are expectations – especially when you’ve come to see a revered text come to life.


Death and the King’s Horseman is not just a play; for me, it is the Holy Grail of African plays, with its deep thematic preoccupations. The dialogue flows like honey laced with molten magma, and erupts like an angry volcano. A masterpiece written by a wordsmith who’s mastered the art of using words like a Samurai would use his sword – to defiantly etch commentary on international relations into the minds of those who behold his words.


Enter Bolanle Austen Peters with her rendition of this masterpiece – and like every director is wont to do, she conducted this brilliant symphony with a dash of the nuances that have made her productions a mainstream delicacy amongst proper theatre faithfuls and new converts alike.


The production felt raw, gritty, and casual at the same time – like a rhythmical confluence of sadness and joy, punctuated by the unexpected humour; the parody-like portrayal of some characters; and the creative liberties taken with the performances to make the experience for the audiences more enjoyable. This was a gamble – especially with a classic like Death and the King’s Horseman, but oddly enough it paid off – it hit the jackpot with audiences who obviously couldn’t get enough.


I can imagine the anxiety that shadows the production of such a revered work, where the source material has been canonized as flawless. So, I can imagine the risk and the trepidation that must have followed the director like goosebumps as she made every decision – from casting, to music, to lighting design, to the blocking – every decision to stay as faithful as possible to the source material and to equally entertain a mixed audience of theatre connoisseurs and newcomers with a yet-to-be-refined taste for theater. The balancing act was crucial and difficult to imagine but made effortless and imperceptible by the clever strokes of Africa’s foremost theatrical genius.


The performers performed – they performed so well, that by the time the play ends, you’d wish it didn’t. Their performances stay glued in your mind, and you go back home watching the reruns with mental clarity and ruminating the import of the message you just received – and only then would you realize that the message was a sad one – and sadly still tacitly resonates with the times we live in today.


For Bolanle Austen Peters’ rendition of Death and the King’s Horseman, I’ll recommend it to all lovers of drama – and cinema – to come experience the cinema of stage.

My Take

Duke of Shomolu

Duke recommends it. Go see it. Rating - excellent

Segun Adefila is an arrogant prick


Segun is one of the most talented I have encountered. He is surreal and not normal. His dreadlocks standing above his head like d snakes on the Medusa head


But I love him to pieces. His handsome red eyes look at u penetratively while he sways ever so gently as he speaks warmly and softly to an arrogant and impatient Duke.


I love engaging Segun in deep conversations. He is a firm believer in Yoruba gods and deep in yoruba mythology. Our first encounter was on the oedipus complex where we argued on the phone for over one hour if the theory that at some point you will feel like fucking your mother was correct.


Using very deep yoruba ethos he fought very strenuously at the stupidity of the theory. I was impressed and loved him. He had my time and we talked and talked and talked


Then yday my review of Bolanles play threw him at me again. He was of the opinion that Soyinka’s Play was 40years old and that it was a classic and must not be touched. It was to be put in an urn and worshipped


This led us to the classic argument who does the writer write for? Himself or the audience


Segun went deep. I tried to follow him. He swam really deep and I struggled to follow him. His arguments were pristine in support of the arrogance in writing or creating for self.


I didn’t agree. Why write for self when u are not the one buying it. Why perpetuate the already admirable natural exclusiveness of raw talent by throwing out works only u and ur ilk who are in the minority would understand.


Why pander to the stupidity of the bland bourgeois who like the fools in the kings Palace agree with Alibaba that he had an invincible jacket just so they belong


Soyinka and the rest including Segun would stand on a lectern and prine and say worship me. I dare you to understand me and spend your money while looking at my beautiful feathers. Watch me preen like a spoilt peacock as you struggle to understand me. Let me feed of your envy, your littleness. My works is for me and u will Pay me to humiliate you.


But I say no. I refuse to be so humiliated. I will water down your work since I am paying to see it.


I will not go and watch a Soyinka drama where he will spend the whole two hours talking to himself. I will watch another version like Bolanles production as that wil give me the chance to even barely understand him


Segun disagrees. He wants the pristine version preserved. He is a talent and a spirit. He is not normal so I understand his view and I let him be


I saw him work closely during my Play Our Duke Has Gone Mad Again which he directed. I saw him prance like a cat bringing my life to life. I saw him create, dance, speak and breathe life into my work so I understand his penchant for the nothingness that comes with high talent


But if I am paying , write for me. Simple

My Take

Duke of Shomolu

Duke recommends it. Go see it. Rating - excellent

This was always going to be tricky. Fostering Wole Soyinka’s classic but stiff play on an audience nurtured by the sweet flowing and highly flexible Saro and other such musicals.


The Tera audience is a new breed of neo elitist, millenial congregation who deliberately move away from the cacophony of pop culture and its shallow tendencies towards a slower but more refined affinity that is Theatre.


But throwing the hard meat that is a Soyinka play especially one as difficult as this was risky and this made me curious.


So when the hard working General Manager at Tera my brother Joseph called, I raised down from Ikorodu to go see the play


The set was beautiful. I loved the pillars and the art on it. The boulders painted white that adjoined the electronic screen was a mark of genius and then the cast emerged.


Bolanle’s strength is in the costumes and her uses. As expected, they were stupendously rich. The colours, its vibrancy and the beauty of the cast made it all very spectacular to the audience.


The lead actor tried but was average. He couldn’t raise his game. The lines came out like a recital and this reduced his motion on stage. But his side kick, the bearded one was a wonder.


His fluidity, his delivery, his beard made for such milky performance. I loved him and looked forward to his time in the spotlight


His powerful renditions of what I hoped were the oriki was music to my tortured soul. He blew the lead away.


The Iya oloja was a marvel to watch. Her voice quality, her blocking, her pacing all rose the production to greater heights


Between the Iya Oloja and the bearded guy, they both gave the lead character very strong crutches to lean on as he struggled with some of the deepest and most difficult lines in his career.


Bolanle is bold and that is why I love her. She courageously took this work and staked a claim to a come of age performance.


Her maturity as a Theatre Director showed. Her essence and quality was on show last night as she poked a finger at doubters who continually see her as an outsider but who also would continue to bow to her genius albeit reluctantly


I bow to her genius very eagerly. As I watch, I feel her imprint not on that stage alone but on the very strong message she keeps sending out to the world on her mission and make no mistake about it Bolanle has come not only to stay but to lead.


Welldone my sister, that was a well spent evening.


Death and the Kings Horseman still running throughout this weekend at Tera Kulture


Duke recommends it. Go see it.


Rating – excellent


Duke of Shomolu