Preview: The Gods Are Not To Blame, Arcola Theatre, London
Authentic rhythms of Africa
Thursday 26 May 2005
When the theatre director Femi Elufowoju Jr stages a play with his company, Tiata Fahodzi (Theatre of the Emancipated), Britain's leading African national touring theatre company, he has to get it right. "You get African audiences coming along to check for authenticity. I must adhere to the African theatre tradition and to the writer's intentions," says Elufowoju. "All my knowledge of African theatre tradition has gone into this play. It is not missing a beat."
First performed in Nigeria in 1968, The Gods Are Not To Blame by Ola Rotimi is the Oedipus saga transposed to African soil. British-born Elufowoju had his first theatre experience in 1975, at the age of 11, when he saw a revival of this very play, performed in a reconstructed Greek amphitheatre at a university campus in Ife, Western Nigeria. "I went out of curiosity with my dad. I was blown away," he says. With its dramatic emphasis on the supernatural - "here was a large cast of about 50 people, all evoking the gods in front of me" - Elufowoju has never looked back. "It was my baptism into African theatre tradition."
Since dance and movement form a vital element to the narrative in African theatre tradition, Elufowoju went back to Nigeria last year to track down the original cast of the 1975 production. "Now the writer is dead, the original cast helped me tackle crucial nuances in the play - such as certain rhythms of movement that go with the songs - that are not in the text."
He founded Tiata Fahodzi in 1997, and his previous productions include Abyssinia (2001) and Bonded (1999). "We explore the workings of our African theatre tradition and find its compatibility with the British stage," he says. The new production opens 30 years virtually to the day when he first saw the play. "I still have the programme notes - 9 June 1975."
'The Gods Are Not To Blame', Arcola Theatre, London E8 (020-7503 1646; www.arcolatheatre.com) 8 June-2 July
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