Theatre:Palmwine Drinkard … The Tale Of A Merrymaker
Many a man do not really understand Alain de Botton that Swiss-born, British-based writer and television presenter, who said, “feeling lost, crazy and desperate belongs to a good life as much as optimism, certainty and reason,’ in one of his works.
Like a seer, the writer must have deciphered the mind’s of Kola Ogunmola, who while adapting The Palmwine Drinkard of Amos Tutuola’s folk novel for stage created a character, Lanke Omu, that lives out the dictum.
Opening with Lanke Omu’s friends following him to his house with dance that continued their drinking spree, the play, an opera, satirises the vainness of human desperation. It tells the story of how human can put their subconscious minds into good use.
Following Lanke (Abiodun Ayoyinka) home, the party continues until the servers run out of wine. Vexed by this abrupt stoppage of their merriment, Lanke’s friends threaten to leave, but Lanke enjoying their company connives with his female servers to provide water for palm wine to his guests.
The guests taste the water assumed to be wine and take offence at Lanke playing a fast one on them. Lanke apologies and appeals they stay with him to continue their gaiety and fun. Pressing that they cannot stay without drinking, Lanke invites Alaba (Ayanlola Samuel), his palm wine tapper. He instructs him to get them some fresh wine from the tree. While doing this, Alaba slips from the palm tree and lands hard on the ground. He goes into coma. With the assumed death of the palm wine tapper the party ends.
However, Lanke and his friends chant dirges, telling the weakness and vanity of human life. They advise he continue his good work there.
A day after the incident, worried Lanke sleeps and dreams that he sojourns to the land of the dead to bring the supposed dead Alaba back to the land of the living. The adventure forms the body of the play, which shows his encounters in the wild with gnomes, fairies and even death.
The play through Lanke’s dream takes the audience to Ilu Ika (Land of wickedness), which is a metaphor of countries like Nigeria, whose leaders instead of providing the citizens what they need to live comfortable are daily placing them under heavy task, denying them of amenities that could make life easy. It also depicts how compliant the citizens of Ilu Ika have accepted the hostility of their leaders, instead of revolting against them to bring the much-needed change in the polity. This apolitical behaviour is the major reason Nigerians rarely hold their leaders to account for their actions while in office.
Directed by Tinuola Temidara and produced by the Lagos State Council For Arts and Culture the opera expressively showcases the Yoruba libretto and also a tradition that has been overtaken by the now pervasive non-operatic dramatic mode.
The director creatively employed contemporary and popular Yoruba musical forms as vehicles of transition from scene to scene, which aided comprehension and arrested attention.
The opera’s rich and diverse imaginative landscape, though managed according to space, also accords the design an unlimited explorative leverage, creating a fusion of symbolic and expressionistic ambience through light and costume. The use of riddles and dance serves as the transitory identity depiction of the various locations of Lanke’s voyage in dreamland.
Depicting themes like persistence, love, street wisdom, greed, camaraderie, the opera while aims to entertain, draws attention to life happenings; showing how despite some people have given themselves to drinking, have chosen to lead a life free from rancor and pretenses.
Portraying man as being in transit on earth as reflected in the dirge for Alaba, the opera plays up the African belief of life after death. It draws heavily from the Yoruba ontology in the interaction between the dead and living. It projects death as a continuum of one’s earthly activities and that the dead could be consulted to unravel man’s difficult problems. Apart from this, it also shows that our departed ones could negatively or positively impact on the living. This could be seen in the spirit handing over a magical calabash to Lanke, which he uses to turn water to palm wine.
The play upholds the African belief that the living cannot do without the dead and that both are in a continuous exploit.
However, with true love and determination to see his friends unite, Alaba comes back to life and the love that existed among them continued. This goes to say we must be hopeful and optimistic in all situations.
The characters lived up to their bidding in action. In fact, their dance and body language were just natural, making the audience flow with them.