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Death and the King’s Horseman

April 8, 2009

The National Theatre is offering a rare chance to see the work of Wole Soyinka in the British capital.

A gorgeous production of the Nobel Laureate’s “Death and the King’s Horseman“, directed by Rufus Norris and choreographed by Javier de Frutos, is playing to enthusiastic houses at the Olivier.

If you ever wondered whether it was possible to get a Yoruba market place on to the stage, the sights and sounds are wonderfully portrayed here.

The play is based on an incident in Oyo in 1943 when a British colonial official prevented the horseman, played by Nonzo Anozie, from committing ritual suicide in accordance with ancient Yoruba custom in order to accompany the dead king on his journey to the afterlife.

Soyinka himself has warned against seeing the play as simply a depiction of a clash of cultures.

The writer has also suggested that the piece, written in 1975, may be attracting new interest because of the rise of suicide bombing in the Middle East, something that “is making people ask questions of that defining moment”.

Some of the all-black cast play the parts of British colonialists in white face. That’s something that might have been expected to get a reaction, but the audience on the night I went did not seem too concerned.

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