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Review of An Introduction to Post-Colonial Theatre


By Jane Plastow

An Introduction to Post-Colonial Theatre. By Brian Crow with Chris Banfield. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996, pp. 186.

The body of critical writing on post-colonial literatures has been growing rapidly in recent years. Brian Crow and Chris Banfield have written a book which aims at the beginners' end of this dynamic field of study, but which unfortunately seems not to have taken into account many recent developments in thinking on how we approach analysis of post-colonial cultures, and particularly performance cultures.

A fairly brief introductory chapter looks at the process of cultural oppression arising out of the colonial period, with particular reference to the analyses of Frantz Fanon and Edward Said. Here I think we can already see one of the major weaknesses of this text, in that itdoes not take on board the work of more recent cultural thinkers such as Homi Bhabha, Jacques Derrida or Michel Foucault, whose work has had a fundamental effect on we view relationships between dominant and dominated cultures and on the construction of cultural identities and 'otherness'. In seven chapters Crow and Banfield then go on to look at theatre in Africa, India, the Caribbean, at Aboriginal theatre in Australia and at black theatre in America. In each case a short opening section seeks to give a context for what goes on to be the study of a major playwright who is glibly identified as the 'best' from the country or continent in question.

The primary virtue of this book is that it is very accessibly written, and has a useful section at the back which indicates where those new to the area will find further material. It also seems important to differentiate between the contributions of Brian Crow, who wrote the bulk of the book, and the two chapters on Indian theatres written by Chris Banfield.   Banfield's work looks with considerable sensitivity at the theatres of Badal Sircar and Girish Karnad, at the dynamic relationship these playwrights have with traditional Indian theatre forms and at how their plays actually work in performance.

The problem with Brian Crow's contributions is that he approaches his analysis from a literary and old-fashioned Eurocentric point of view.   In the chapter on Wole Soyinka nearly all of Africa is homogeneously dismissed as a basket case before we are told that is therefore 'unrealistic to expect the arts to flourish, though, miraculously, they sometimes have.' (79)  This astounding statement in view of the vitality, diversity and power of indigenous African performance arts is clarified when Crow goes on to say that 'much remains to be done to create a theatrical profession willing and able to make and perform a repertoire of ''serious'' drama for an appreciative audience.'(79) Patently Brian Crow,  even after presumably reading his  Ngugi,  does  not  recognise indigenous performance forms as legitimate theatre, and in spite of paying lip service to popular theatre developments he is only really interested in the literary theatre of the educated elite.  Sadly most of this book is rather shallow and was outdated before it came off the press, although the chapters on India are a delightful exception which I found fascinating reading.

[Published in Leeds African Studies Bulletin, 61 (1996), pp. 63-64]

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