Proverb to Bones and Silence

May 9, 2024

When the stage lights up in a shade of warm green and the scene opens up with the wandering dead pregnant woman and the dead man looking for who will take their case, I adjust myself on my seat in a comfort that registers my excitement. 

A Dance of the Forests by Wole Soyinka, although one of his widely recognised plays, remains a play that leaves the audience in a state of annoyance at the unnecessary complexity and the obscurantism with which it progresses. This is a play I have read many times, so when the characters of Rola, Demoke, Obaneji, and Adenebi miss their lines, I notice this especially because those lines are crucial to the understanding of the play. I look at the faces of others seated beside me, to my left and to my right, I notice their faces are coated in obvious confusion trying to make an earnest attempt to comprehend what is going on. This is how you know that the play is doing its bidding— it has a singular job: to confuse. Whether the confusion of my seat neighbours is because of the missing lines or the play’s inherent nature or both, I am uncertain. 

Perhaps an understanding can be derived from the production of this stage performance. I would like to think that the final year class of the Theatre Arts Department of University of Ibadan, who performed this play at the Wole Soyinka Theatre, Ibadan, are masters of their game in regards to stage arrangement. There are only so many facilities that students can gather for such a play that requires meticulous production, yet they were able to make the very best with the limited resources. It, however, appears to me that their focus on getting the set right slightly takes away from the very essence of the play, which is the action itself. The forgetfulness of lines, such to the notice of an audience like myself, is not at all a great look. 

Again, what is remarkable is the arrangement of the stage to the taste of the play’s stage directions. They have been able to put up a convincing forest that underscores the essence of the play, and where all of the scenes unfold. Beyond the noticeable average delivery of lines by the actors, beyond the confusion on the faces of the audience, beyond the wickedness of Madam Tortoise, beyond the trickery of Eshuoro and the wisdom of Forest head, there lies a message at the heart of this play: history repeats itself when not addressed and when we do not learn from it. As the audience erupts in ululation at the end, I am convinced their excitement is a performance too. I left the theatre same as I came: excited. Not because a great performance has been given, but because I know, now, my confusion of the play shares companions.