By Martin Banham (University of Leeds)
Major Plays 2. Femi Osofisan. Opon Ifa Readers, Ibadan, 2003. pp. 199. ISBN 9783613634 (pb.) £14.95/$16.95 (Distributed by African Books Collective, Oxford)
Of the ‘second’ generation of contemporary Nigerian playwrights following in the footsteps of Wole Soyinka, J.P. Clark and Ola Rotimi (including such talents as Bode Sowande, Tess Onwueme, Olu Obafemi, etc.), Femi Osofisan is outstanding. His output is prodigious – well over 60 plays since the 1970s – and his work is widely produced internationally. His plays have always been radical and adventurous in form and content, drawing on contemporary political events, incidents in ancient and recent West African history, classic plays of the Western repertory (for instance Tegonni – his version of Antigone, and Who’s Afraid of Solarin from Gogol’s The Government Inspector), and a cheerful willingness to engage with the earlier giants and to rework their plays from his own political perspective (for instance No More the Wasted Breed referring to Soyinka’s The Strong Breed, and Another Raft targeting Clark’s The Raft). Osofisan’s plays are widely published by Nigerian presses, with one collection (The Oriki of a Grasshopper and Other Plays), available from Howard University Press in the US. The small volume of three plays presently under review contains a typical range of work. Esu and the Vagabond Minstrels uses Yoruba myth to explore contemporary responsibilities, Red is the Freedom Road is a morality based on the 19th Century Yoruba Wars, and Aringindin and the Nightwatchmen is a typically robust work showing how civil unrest and violence can be used as a pretext to impose totalitarian rule, obviously a theme very pertinent to Osofisan’s young audiences — he has always had great popularity with student audiences and actors — in Nigeria in the last decades of the 20th Century. This collection will serve to whet the appetite and encourage further exploration of the work of one of Africa’s most dynamic, ingenious and relevant playwrights.
Reviewed by: Martin Banham
[Published in Leeds African Studies Bulletin 68 (2006), pp. 107-108]