REVIEW NO.1 BASED ON BRITISH TOUR
Women Of Owu. – Tour & World Premiere.
An African Interpretation of Euripides’ Trojan Women (first performed 415 BC in Greece).
Women Of Owu first performance was at The Theatre Chipping Norton on 2 February 2004.
Playwright – Femi Osofisan.
Director – Chuck Mike.
Assistant Director – Patricia Davenport.
Designer – Atlanta Duffy.
Reviewer – Thelma Good.
The fusion increasingly satisfies.
Setting his version in Nigeria just after the 1821 siege of the city of Owu, Femi Osofisan’s has fused the Greek original to his country’s past. The fusion increasingly satisfies and bears many resonances from these pasts and reaching forward into our still war torn present days.
He has fired the ancient tale of Euripides’ Trojan Women with strong and lyrical English where much of the action as it was in ancient times taking place off stage. The women of Owu tell us of the ruined city, the unburied bodies of all the slaughtered men, often in exceptional chorus work where the words sounds, all the spoken text is in English use their musical power.
All this out of sight incidents makes more powerful the final scenes of the drama where the women have to leave to become slaves or wives of the conquerors. In them the action comes on to the stage, so we have the agonizing, heart-stopping moment when Hazel Holder’s Adumaadan (Andromache in the Greek original) turns and we see the tiny foot of the only living male of the Owu royal family secured for now on her back. Then there is the sight of Funmi Olowe’s Iyunloye (Helen), spoken of as a cause of the war, as embodied by Olowe you believe she could have caused it, and her husband Okunade (Menelaus) played by Rex Obana. He’s the artist turned soldier, she’s the captured wife who has found a way back to her first husband’s heart after living with one of her captors in Owu. Alternately taunting and standing up for her once daughter in law is Erelu Afin (Hecabe), in Tosan Edremoda Ugbeye portrayal there is her past might as Queen as well as her state now, deferred to by some as the oldest woman but denigrate by others for her age as well as her past.
The production is multicultural in many ways with a production and creative team drawn mainly from Britain and Nigeria. What you get is not a coming from nowhere internationalism, this production is rooted in cultures, one long gone, the others still present despite centuries of colonial occupation and a shrinking globe. Tunde Euba’s Anlugbua (Posideon) moves as a Nigerian God moves in their own dramas, giving even British audiences a far more understandable representation of a deity whose reasons and logic are beyond our earthly understanding. Joining him on the astral plane is Lawumi (Athene) clearly quietly, powerful in Louisa Eyo’s playing. Throughout there is music and song, some celebratory, some beautiful songs of loss and pain and the remainder of the cast all add detail particularly Shola Benjiman’s sometimes comic chorus character.
The acting style when the production begins has a formal flavor accentuated by the use of decorum*. But it’s worth sticking with it. As the drama grows towards its kernel scenes, the play becomes increasingly striking as gods despair at humans inability to learn from history and women rail against becoming captive by wars wrought supposedly for freedom. When Euripides wrote the original play it was revolutionary in the way women spoke, Osofisan’s version gives revitalizing vigor and voice to its ancient strength.
© Thelma Good 17 February 2004. – Published on EdinburghGuide.com
*Decorum – in this sense a technical term used action which happens offstage.
Cast: The Greek equivalents are shown in brackets
Anlugbua (Posideon) – Tunde Euba, Erelu Afin (Hecabe) – Tosan Edremoda Ugbeye, Chorus Leaders – Shola Benjiman and Louisa Eyo, Gesinde (Talthybius) – Tunde Euba, Orisaye (Cassandra) – Medina Ajikawo, Lawumi (Athene) – Louisa Eyo, Adumaadan (Andromache) Hazel Holder, Okunade (Menelaus) Rex Obana, Lyunloye (Helen) – Funmi Olowe and Young woman of the chorus Amie Bunhari. Chorus played by all members of the company.
Percussion – Ayo Thomas, Amie Buhari and Aliu Olatunji.
REVIEW NO.2 BASED ON BRITISH TOUR
Trojan Women – The Women of Owu
By George Hummer
A group of women, the only spoils of a devastating war, sit and mourn for their dead and for their own shattered lives. The victors, detached and arrogant, meet somewhere to decide the fate of those women.
This is Euripides’ The Trojan Women, seamlessly transferred to Yorubaland, Nigeria, for The Women of Owu.
In Femi Osofisan’s hands, what might have been a simple transference produces reverberations that power the play.
Iraq? Troy? Kosovo? Yorubaland? In a controlled, powerful, convincing, beautiful drama, Collective Artistes present us with the broken mirror images of ancient, merely past, and contemporary history.
The mating of Greek tragedy and African history is a masterstroke, and the telling of the story in the hands of this cast is clear and uncluttered.
The plot is very simple: the dispersal of the women to their conquerors, to become servants, or concubines or slaves.
Director Chuck Mike and his choreographer have rehearsed the actors in the rhythms and movements of Nigerian dance and song, and from somewhere the actors have learned the difficult trick of maintaining dramatic tension.
The audience never escapes from the palms of their hands. The result is a drama in which the ritualistic and the naturalistic work in tandem to total effect.
Though gods rant and quarrel like market traders, the mortal women combine in sinuous choral speaking accompanied by soft drums and rattles, and the tragedy sings itself into one’s head.
In a cast that genuinely justifies the term ensemble, there are still standouts. In the Hecuba part, Tosan Edremoda Ugbeye plays Erelu with regal breadth. Restraining herself from seeking sympathy from the audience, she acts with horror in her eyes, beyond any understanding of what has happened.
Her faith in the gods is shattered forever. “We were always alone, we just did not know,” she says. Even her compassion is a victim of the war, now that mourning will achieve nothing.
As foil to her, Tunde Euba gives us Gesinde, the messenger of the conquerors who is the perpetual foot soldier, carrying out his orders, preserving his own life when death is a commonplace.
He is amusing, getting genuine laughs, and chilling. He would be capable of cracking a joke while turning on the gas taps at Auschwitz.
As Adumaadan, the only Owu woman left with a living male child, Hazel Holder moves the audience to and beyond tears. Her motherly sensitivity still intact, she is crushed with the others into the wreckage of Owu. The match between her acting and the writing produced true brilliance, and her slow, heartbroken exit was itself heartbreaking.
There are fine cameos from Rex Obano as the artist-turned conqueror, Okunade, bestriding the stage like a colossus, and Louisa Eyo as the mother goddess, Lawumi, fly-whisking morality away to give space for petulance.
“Better than the original” would be a plug too far, but The Women of Owu is a rare thing, a work of beauty, exciting and, oddly, original beyond any expectations. The play and the production are, simply, superb.
Title: Women of Owu
Author: Osofisan, Femi
Length: 78 pages
Genre: Fiction, Play, History
Publisher / Year: University Press PLC, Ibadan / 2006
Why I Read It: I heard about Osofisan somewhere and picked up this and Who’s Afraid of Solarin?.
Date Read: 03/03/11
This was the second play I’ve read this year, both of which were by Osofisan. Unfortunately I did not love this one as much, but I still found it very interesting. This play is an African retelling of Euripides’ The Trojan Women and I also suspect that I would have gotten a lot more from this play had I read the original.
As per the notes on the play, Owu was a city-state in the south of current Nigeria which was under siege for seven years by the combined armies of Ijebu and Ife, as well as mercenaries recruited from the Oyo refugees. The city was attacked under the guise of liberating a market from their control but in the end all men and children were murdered, women were taken as slaves, and the city was burned to the ground.
The play would be fantastic to see live, I’m sure, as it is not only a play but also full of music and dirges. These dirges are transcribed and translated in the back but as the author notes, ‘their essence is to be distilled more from the mood and atmosphere they create’ so simply reading the translated lyrics really doesn’t do them justice. Simply reading them and imagining them sung, especially as they fit in to the play itself, is still rather evocative and one can get a sense of what an experience the live play would be.
Although based on a play which was written so long ago, and based on events that happened over a hundred years ago, the events discussed still feel so current to our own times. I especially liked this quote found on page 8:
When the strong fight the weak, it’s called
A Liberation War
To free the weak from oppression.
And similarly the following exchange on page 13:
Woman: Liars! You came, you said
To help free our people from a wicked king. Now,
After your liberation, here we are
With our spirits broken and our faces swollen
Waiting to be turned into whores and housemaids
In your towns. I too, I curse you!
Erelu: Savages! You claim to be more civilized than us
But did you have to carry out all this killing and carnage
To show you are stronger than us? Did you
Have to plunge all these women here into mourning
Just to seize control over our famous Apomu market
Known all over for its uncommon merchandise?
Woman: No, Erelu, what are you saying?
Are you forgetting?
They do not want our market at all-
Woman: They are not interested in such petty things
Woman: Only in lofty, lofty ideas, like freedom-
Woman: Or human rights-
Woman: Bless the kindness which has rescued us
From tyranny in order to plunge us into slavery!
A rather long excerpt but one that many would still hold happens all the world over today. We still hear the same laments and curses!
There were also interesting discussions about who is really in charge of your destiny. Do the gods control everything? There is an interesting exchange where they simply create more and more war. Or is it men who are in control or their own fates and the gods not important? Both ideas are presented and differing characters hold differing views.
What bothered me was of course what sets the play in its ultimate comparison to Euripides’ play. Iyunloye is the Helen in this play and the situation where the other women are calling her out as an adulteress and she is bargaining for her rights is… well… slightly repugnant to me. The way it is portrayed is that one look at her and the Maye won’t be able to stick to his plan of punishing her. She is willy and tricky and seeks to control men through her looks. She has indeed been used as a bargaining chip by both sides and is equally blamed by both sides. It really didn’t seem all that fair to me!
A lot to think on in this play that I really haven’t even touched. Definitely worth reading and I would recommend it to all.
Femi Osofisan’s play Women of Owu is a “re-reading” of Euripides’s Women of Troy. Although the
play was commissioned for a British production, Osofisan communicates with his compatriots as
well. In order to reach both categories of spectators he works with two different semiotic
systems. The systems function separately, but for spectators conversant with both systems, they
enhance each other. The essay analyzes the 2004 London production and discusses the
perception of some hypothetical groups of spectators and the skill with which Osofisan–and the
director Chuck Mike–guided the interpretative strategies and so made it possible for the
spectators, in spite of their different competences, to see the production as lashing out against
mankind’s habits of solving conflicts by means of war, be it in the European Athens of antiquity, in
the nineteenth-century Yoruba Kingdom of Owu, or in present-day conflicts around the world.
REVIEW NO 5.
REVIEW BASED ON BRITISH TOUR
Theatre-Women of Owu
Euripides’s Trojan Women is given an African makeover is this version by Nigerian playwright Femi Osofisan. The sacked city of Troy gives way to the smoking ruins of the Nigerian city of Owu, previously a prosperous model city state that, in 1821, was destroyed after a seven-year siege by the combined armies of the Ijebu and Ife kingdoms.
Troy, Owu – it almost hardly matters, for what follows is an age-old lamentation of pain and rage by a small band of surviving women, led by their former queen, who have become the spoils of war. They have lost their fathers, husbands, brothers and sons and now they must face the humiliation of becoming their conquerors’ slaves and concubines.
Chuck Mike’s ensemble production has a grave simplicity and is steeped in the rituals of the Yoruba people. It is moving stuff, and has moments of great power such as when the women bare their breasts and curse those who will shortly violate them.
Even in Euripides’s original this is a play that seldom makes the leap from telling to showing. The lack of real drama combined with the orgy of weeping words and wailing women makes for a strangely inert evening. Only in the second half, when the beautiful Iyunloye (Helen in Trojan Women) tries to avoid being stoned to death by seducing the husband whom she deserted, does the play start to fire on all cylinders. Her husband’s confusion and the lack of sisterhood amongst the women, who see her as responsible for bringing on the destruction of their city and lives, is realised with a cunning humour. On the whole though, this is heartfelt but slightly dull.
TO BE CONTINUED