Wole Soyinka’s The Lion and The Jewel runs until March 5 at the Theatre Guild and those who haven’t seen it yet should make the time to do so. There are shows on tonight and tomorrow night, while daytime shows from March 2 – 5 will cater for schoolchildren.
The Lion and The Jewel has been put on specifically to benefit schoolchildren writing the English B paper at the upcoming Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate examination in a few months. But its messages, eloquently delivered through superb acting, have relevance for any young person.
Directed by Godfrey Naughton, the Theatre Guild production, according to the flyer, was in collaboration with the Ministry of Education.
To anyone sitting in the theatre before the play starts, the set design appears to be just adequate. Granted, Ilujinle, the Nigerian village in which the play is set is a backward one, whose Bale (chief) refuses to allow roads or a railway, in fact he appears to shun everything modern. But from all accounts the Bale lived in some amount of luxury, which the set does not reflect. Once the lights go down though, the acting more than makes up for the set design.
Kefa Smith, the first ever Mr Guyana Talented Teen, plays Lakunle, the village schoolteacher who is in love with Sidi (Mosa Telford). But Lakunle also loves the idea that he is a modern man just as much and he places himself above everyone else in the village.
He is the only person in Western wear and he openly scorns village customs to the extent that he is prepared to alienate Sidi, whom he claims to love. Though Kefa had said two years ago that he was a singer, dancer and actor, he had not really been seen starring on stage. Kefa gave a good account of himself as the love-wrought teacher and forward thinker determined to bring about change.
Makeup artist Clinton Duncan (Baroka, the Lion) was slightly less convincing as the 62-year-old Bale: the makeup did not age him enough. And because Clinton is a muscled young man who looks as if he works out every day, it was hard to connect the strong body with the ‘old Bale’ who Sidi found repulsive. Yet Clinton was also strong in the delivery of his lines and he ‘owned’ the role.
Neither, however, could match the magnificence that was Mosa Telford in her role as Sidi (the Jewel). So entirely believable was she as Sidi that we constantly had to remind ourselves that this was in fact the Guyana Prize for Literature award-winning playwright and mother. Mosa/Sidi commanded the stage to the extent that whenever she was in a scene it was difficult to look at anyone else and when she wasn’t, anticipation built up to her next entry.
Mosa didn’t just portray Sidi, she became Sidi. And although the way Soyinka wrote The Lion and The Jewel, the Lion was the ultimate conqueror—though by foul means—in this local production Mosa/Sidi is the true gem; likely because of Mosa’s strength as an actor. But she so endears Sidi to the audience that it little matters that she’s naïve enough to be fooled by the Bale. The movement and accent were also spot on.
As a matter of fact, all of the actors embraced the accent and managed to sound authentically African. The insults Sidi and Lakunle exchange, for example, have that much more of an impact said than read. Mosa was ably supported by Kefa and Clinton. Candacy Baveghems brought humour as the crafty first wife Sadiku and Kim Fernandes also turned in a creditable performance as the latest wife who was dismayed at being replaced. She also showed her versatility when she sang “Nongqongqo (To Those We Love)” at the end with Kefa Smith.
“Nongqongqo,”a Miriam Makeba original, which has been covered by several artistes, is as South African as Makeba was. However, since Makeba was also known as Mama Africa, and the song is one which resonates with audiences, it was perhaps a good fit. Nigerians might not agree but such license is usually allowed in theatrical performances and in films.