Palm-wine drinkard, follies and foibles of man in operatic enactment

COMMUNICATION and aesthetic values of operatic mode of dramatisation was enacted when Kola Ogunmola’s Palm-wine Drinkard (Omuti) was staged as the convocation play of the 32nd convocation ceremony of the University of Ilorin on October 18, 2016.

The storyline of the play revolved around Lanke (Omuti), a drunkard, who decided to host his friends to palm-wine drinking spree. Midway into the party, they exhausted the palm-wine and his friends threaten to leave. Lanke called his palm-wine tapper friend, Alaba, to fetch fresh palm-wine for him. While Alaba was tapping palm-wine, he fell from the palm tree and died. Traumatised by this sudden exist of the palm-wine tapper, and the desire to sustain his obsession for palm-wine, Lanke, in a dream, strived to trace the tapper to the land of the dead.

The dangerous adventure took him to the abode of the spirit, the forest, the house of the cruel king and the town of the dead. He married Bisi, his desperate lover in the dream world. Lanke (Olagunju Joshua)’s encounter in the strange towns with the strange creatures brought out the creativity of the director, cast and crew.

Directed by Rasheed Adeoye, realisation of Lanke’s adventure on stage was through operatic enactment that emphasized the use of folksongs, dances and mime to humanise fictional characters. This was backed up with the harmonisation of directorial concept of interpretation with that of the set designer, costumier cum make-up artist, the choreographer and music composer. The outcome of this unified vision was the captivating dramatisation of Lanke’s adventure into the world of the unknown in pantomime, songs and dances embelished with colourful setting, costuming and lighting for visual delight. This re-incarnation of folkloric tradition of Yoruba opera which dates back to 1946 when Hubert Ogunde formed his theatre company affirmed the similarity of dance theatre or drama and opera in use songs and dances to replace dialogue in narration.

The high-point of the performance were the acting, costuming, setting and lighting in the abode of the night spirit, the forest, house of the cruel king and the town of the dead. Realistic characterisation of the strange creatures in these scenes were enhanced with costume that made them dreadful and setting that made the environment natural. In the same vein, tension, mood and emotion were captured in expressive use of light in colours and specific illumination.

The replacement of dialogue which could sometimes bore the audience or drag the action with thematic songs arrested the attention of the audience for proper understanding of the thematic pre-occupation. At the surface level, Palm-wine Drinkard dramatised the follies and forbles of man in his desperation for trivialities instead of virtues that can transform his life. At the metaphorical level, it can be interpreted to imply man’s desperate search for affluence and influence as signified in the palm-wine, even when he or she is not hardworkng. In the dramatic universe, Lanke, the palm-wine drinkard, spent his valuable time drinking palm-wine and yet dreamt of a blissful life.

Adapted from the novel of Amos Tutuola, The Palmwine Drinkard (Omuti), was first staged in 1963 at the Arts Theatre, University of Ibadan with Kola Ogunmola as Lanke. It is pertinent to note that, it was the play that shot Kola Ogunmola into limelight as an actor. When compared with the convocation play of 2015, Bode Sowande’s Tornadoes of full of dreams by the same director, the directorial concept are basically the same in terms of effective use songs, dances and spectacles in movement, costume, set and colours. The conclusion we can draw is the passion of the Professor of Directing for African theatre aesthetics of fusion of acting, dance and songs to prevent dull moment. This style of production in which the director’s vision, or concept dominates that of the playwright is called ‘concept production’ and such directors are categorised as ‘creative directors.’ Their characteristic trait is that of adding concepts, designs, or interpretations atop the playwright’s words that were never intended by the playwright. They can, therefore, mould any wordy script into a lively one. Other plays that have been moulded into captivating enactment through Adeoye’s ‘concept production’ style are: Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, Tewfik Al-Hakim’s Fate of a Cockroach, Wale Ogunyemi’s Queen Amina of ZauZau, Duro Ladipo’s Eda, The Smart Game and The Killers.


Hameed Olutoba Lawal is of the Federal College of Education (Special), Oyo.