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15.04.2009- Death and the King's Horseman

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Death and the King's Horseman, The National Theatre, 02.04.2009, 7.30pm.

Rufus Norris' new production of Wole Soyinka's rarely staged masterpiece was a vibrant if ultimately tragic journey into Yoruban culture. From the rich vibrancy of the communal market, to the symbolic all white ball thrown in honour of a visiting dignitary, the stage design, overseen by Katrina Lindsay was faultless, consistently leaving the audience breathless as bales of hay came to life and the ensemble danced with dummies.

Standout performances came from Lucian Msamati and Jenny Jules as Simon and Jane Pilkings respectively, performing the white colonisers in white face paint and with perfect cut-glass accents. Their first entrance, where they danced on to the stage dressed in traditional egungun costumes, engendered rapturous laughter from the audience, complemented by a member of the ensemble dressed as a lamp, which came to life when switched on and off.

Clare Benedict was equally warm and formidable as Iyaloja, the 'mother' of the market, and praise too must go to Kobna Holdbrook-Smith as Olunde, Elesin's son, who is gifted with perhaps the most striking dialogue of the play as he shatters the Pilkings' illusions about the world in which they live.Nonzo Anozie's portrayal of Elesin struck a different chord to the expected; on paper the Horseman is an honourable man and his failure in enacting his ritual suicide can be largely attributed to the intervention of Pilkings in a culture which he does not understand. However, by bravely playing Elesin as a smug, self assured and above all fallible character, Anozie encourages the audience, as well as the other characters to consider whether his godlike status is rightly deserved, especially in light of the tragic events which follow his failure to carry out his sacred duty to his King.

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