Vibrant dances and rituals are key in this production of The Lion and the Jewel, directed by Chuck Mike. The play by Nobel prize winning Wole Soyinka exposes the struggle in a small African village between the modern and the traditional, local and Western.
This version revels in the colourful culture of the Nigerian village at the expense of the darker side of the original script. But although some of the stark message and deep tensions are lost, the result is a light-hearted watch which captivates a snapshot from the heart of the continent.
The issue of women’s role in society is still central and is explored from the opening scene, with a fantastic scene of comic dialogue between village belle Sidi, played by Omonor Imobhio, and teacher Lakunle, played by Anthony Ofoegbu. The latter is the clear star of the play as the love-struck teacher who wants to modernise the community and the status of women. Imobhio is not left much in the shade though, with her depiction of the ‘bush woman’ whose life is turned upside down when photographs of her appear in a magazine and she is put on a pedestal for her beauty.
The highlight of The Lion and the Jewel is the play within a play of the traveller who stopped by (the photographer stayed in the village after his car broke down nearby). The musical re-enactment of the event is simply wonderful, full points must be given to choreographer Koffi Koko whose global experience and unique vision shines through the scene full of palpable atmosphere, comedy and beautiful moves.
The set must be commended too. It is simple but it smoothly transforms from one scene to another thanks to clever props. The only downfall of this production is the strong accent of the actors, which for the uninitiated is at times very difficult to follow. The unfortunate result is that a lot can be lost from the valuable dialogues and plot.