To mark the Nigeria’s 61st Independence, Arojah Royal Theatre (ART) re-staged What The Hunter Saw, a social engagement project deploying theatre in the interpretation of reality.
Beyond addressing issues of relevance in the nation, the play written by Makinde Adeniran in 2016, and directed by him for the first time is a glimpse into the mind and sensibilities of the author and Nobel Laureate, Wole Soyinka; not to mention the playwright’s platform to agitate the cause of honoring impactful artists in their time.
Supported by the Swedish Embassy in Nigeria, the production uses Swedish author, Thomas Transtromer as a point of entrance into Soyinka represented in the character Hunter So/Kongi to explore the intellectuality and similarity of both writers, but also draw the audience into the mind of an author yet to see the changes he’s fought for.
Deploying sarcasm, satire and humour, Makinde explore themes of corruption – political and religious, the immortalization or lack thereof of Nigerians as Soyinka who have contributed to and sacrificed comfort and tears to nation building, and the dangers of identity limitation to a person’s and a people’s growth and freedom.
In the opening of the one act scenes, we see the dialogue of between Hunter So played by Isaac Israel, and his prized statues (Folashade Olafisoye, Ezra Ibrahim) that presents to the audience not just the opinions of the writer’s critics, but in a way a mental struggle – with those criticisms that ends with his admission, ‘‘If you read my work and don’t understand it then its not for you.’’
That is a curious admission of exclusion considering Adeniran’s presentation of such argument in the play. It is well known that a lot of Soyinka’s writing are too intellectual or incomprehensible to a greater number of the public.
But Adeniran said the idea of the production is not to demystify Soyinka rather to draw the audience into his world. Hence, his directorial choice of using a familiar character, environmental situation and humour to pass his message. Case in point the scene indicating Bro Jero (Desmond Okhei) use of religion to manipulate his congregation members Bro Chume (Osasuwa Ehibor) and his wife Amokpe (Shasia Umar) speak of other forms of corruption, amongst the people.
Symbolism, likewise, weighs in on What The Hunter Saw, as the playwright addresses the labelling of Soyinka as a traditionalist, and the dangers of such labelling pigeonholes people and curtails development.
‘‘A lot of symbols in the play, such as Hunter So’s morning devotion in Yoruba – the traditional way of devotion – offered while in his pajama, an English night garment, is a mix of the traditional and modern, which partly explores the writer’s personality, while also a calling for the peoples’ realization that one can be a mix of many things, which keep them open to growth and change.
‘‘People like Soyinka are able to break boundaries. They are not limiting themselves by identity. Rather than a traditionalist. I would say Soyinka is a humanist. He will discuss any subject matter and respect you for whatever you are,’’ said Adeniran.
He achieves further interaction with the older and literary audience via the play’s dialogue which borrows a line or two from Soyinka’s plays and poems such as Abiku, and Death and the King’s Horsemen.
But the 40 mins production felt too brief and dense to unpack. Like a short film with the potential to become a feature film, the playwright said What The Hunter Saw is a surface scratch of what the work can become. The current production, and the initial one directed by the late Fayaman Adesewo, which highlighted more of the intersection between Soyinka and Thomas Transtromer, are minimalistic in nature to allow for easy movement of the play and cast.
Indeed, the play as other short plays written by Adeniran has travelled wide; a success he didn’t anticipate given the time (two weeks and one draft) it took to create the work. ‘‘It just didn’t occur to me that I have put so much into it. It is an unfinished work. There is so much that I could still have added. There are still happenstances, situations, songs that I could have added. If the money, time and space were available. This is bigger than what you saw here.”
But like the play’s end which saw the protagonist admissive of his own faults, real or assumed, but persistent on his cause, the playwright is optimistic of the play’s impact and capacity to extend even further beyond its present state and reach.
With the production done, Adeniran, who has just written and directed Awo, a musical about the late regional head of south-west Nigeria, Obafemi Awolowo, is returning to Lagos, to prepare for another production set for premiere in December.