TITLE: TITLE: DEATH & THE KING’S GREY HAIR & OTHER PLAYS
AUTHOR: Denja Abdullahi
REVIEWER: Salamatu Sule
Death and the King’s Grey Hair and other Plays is a collection of three plays written by Denja Abdullahi, an award-winning poet, essayist, cultural enthusiast and technocrat.
It is not a historical play, but a play based on an oral mythology attributed to the Jukun people of the north central. The playwright explains in the preface that he does not bother himself to go into any search for the facts of the story but feels the need to weave bare myth into dramatic fiction.
The play is centered on the king of the land of Shakaga, King Esutu who defies the tradition of his people that says the throne is for ‘young kings and short reigns’; as the kings in that land are normally given poison to drink and die to be reborn into a lion at the sprouting of the first grey hair on their royal heads. Like it is with such typical tradition, all is not well with the people of Shakaga at the beginning of the play. The attempt by the King to willfully defy tradition in search of absolute power and the people’s resistance to that form the conflict framework of the play. The play is noteworthy for its cultural setting.
All three plays in the collection are experimental plays. ‘Death and the King’s Grey Hair’ shows to us the effect of the abuse of power and total disregard for tradition. The playwright explains to us that power is “power” no matter the period of time a leader rules. King Esutu of Shakaga and the man of the cave in the ancient period are not different from the modern man who can go to any length to remain on the throne.
In the second play titled Truce with the Devil, Abdullahi brings to the table his experiment with Marxist ideology as opposed to capitalism. Through this theatre of experiment, the playwright says it is nearly impossible to dethrone capitalism and enthrone Marxism. He uses real characters in fictional perspectives. Suleiman, a devotee and advocate of Marx and Engels is oppressed by his capitalist uncle; he gets expelled from Jarasite University as a result of his crusade for the proletarians.
Like Ngugi Wa Thiongo’s I will Marry When I Want, the principle of collectivism cannot work as most people are oppressed by poverty and joblessness. Suleiman submits to capitalism because he cannot fend for his siblings and he explains to Dapo how he only needs to play the devil’s advocate to get what he wants.
‘Fringe Benefits,’ the third play, is written through the eyes of the playwright as a participant- observer. Here, Abdullahi explains the social realities of life in tertiary institutions and the society at large and the benefits that accompany the job we do. Imagine if we have to go to library where books are non-existent, to do a research or where the only way out is to buy handouts or take our lecturer’s order? Imagine if the only better option for us is to go beyond the shores for a greener pasture due to the economic situation of the country.
The plots of the plays are unique as the playwright succeeds in crafting out the conflicts and providing good resolutions with good characterization and dialogue that blends with the period and situation of the time. I like the poetic rendition of the character of Gabisi the poet and guardian of words:
The first play is in movements and broken in to seven movements while the second play is in Act and the third in scene. Pretty much different from the usual Act and Scene style of play writing.
I will suggest this book be recommended for tertiary institutions, secondary schools and also for the theater. It is a classical collection of plays filled with great humor.
Culled from: City Voice
I am a member of the WRR editorial team.