Crown Troupe theatre have returned to Freedom Park with another production. This time Wole Soyinka’s The Swamp Dwellers. There is much to be said for the interestingness of the themes Soyinka is explores in this play, but the material has not aged well. The dialogue feels often heavy and ponderous; this is not an insurmountable barrier, but it is not one that this production overcomes. That said, your reviewer watched this performance on its first night, so some benefit of the doubt should be given. The decision for the characters to address the audience when giving their lines rather than the intimacy of themselves in their world, adds to the heaviness of the material. There are some rich performances here, especially the portrayal of the grief stricken mother, and Kadire, the chief priest – one infused with pathos, the other with ribald humour. The actors playing all the other major characters seem oppressed by the heaviness of their dialogue, delivering their lines with little enthusiasm. The central themes of the play, the conflict between those who migrate to the city, and those who remain in the rural areas, as well as the fracturing of social bonds that migration to the city produces come through, but the central pathos of this play should be the loss of family and land. We see it and hear it in the dialogue, but when the lights go up metaphorically speaking, we do not feel it. This revival, it pains me to say, is only half alive. On that note, so is Nigerian theatre, so I’d still encourage you to go see it, and judge for yourself.
The Swamp Dwellers is at Freedom Park till the end of July 2017.