Lime interview - Theatre
An exclusive interview with Professor Wole Soyinka
In benefit for theatre company, Collective Artistes, friend and patron of the organisation,
Nobel Laureate professor Wole Soyinka discussed culture and politics at the Southbank Centre with the Centres’ artistic director Jude Kelly OBE at a gala evening last month.
The main reason for your trip to the UK is for the Benefit event at the Southbank centre to raise funds for Collective Artistes. How do you think organisations such as Collective Artistes influence society for the better through theatre?
By being what it is and doing what it does and that means addressing themes which are not necessarily of relevance but which contribute to society and the community. I don’t want to suggest the themes that a group like Collective Artistes addresses in theatre must be of immediate relevance to that community. No, it can be something different to the immediate concerns but at least it expands the mind of the group and becomes a sort of adventure in understanding the world.
As a play reader for the Royal Court theatre – what was it like being involved with such an establishment?
Could you please share one of your earliest childhood memories of theatre?
At an early age, I took part in an operetta directed by my father who was the headmaster of the school. It was called The Magician. I remember I thoroughly enjoyed it even the rigorous discipline as it meant I escaped housework. Being in that operetta was my first multimedia experience combining music, acting and dialogue. I also enjoyed being centre of attention. I played the lead role and enjoyed that very much. At that time I had no idea that one could make a living or occupy oneself doing that sort of job. Even though we had a tradition of theatre such as folk opera I didn’t think people made a living from it. I was either going to be a pilot or a lawyer – the usual stock.
Was there a battle with your parents when you didn’t decide to go down that traditional route?
No, no, no. I think my parents would have preferred if I was a doctor or I went for medicine or even law as we have a number of lawyers in my family or education like themselves but they realised it would of been a waste of time.
How has Nigerian theatre evolved over the years?
A rollercoaster journey. Television encouraged and at the same time unmade theatre. There were regular theatre productions on the television but the quality went down because people couldn’t produce enough scripts at that pace. The quality in acting went down and then simply by hammering at it, by going at it, the actors gained more experience and theatre went up again in quality and quantity.
What’s one of your favourite plays that you’ve directed?
Where you happy with the National Theatre’s production?
I thought it was a marvellous spectacle. I had irritating moments – I always do. When actors are lazy about new words, especially names – when they don’t give names their correct value. Give them a Russian name and they pronounce it properly... Yes, I find that very irritating.
What are your thoughts on the production Fela?
I saw it in the States. I thought the vitality was unbelievable, the Fela lead was excellent and it was also a unique show in many ways as reviewers said, New York had never seen anything like it. It was an original piece of theatre – a lot of imagination went into it. I think it was a good legacy and what I liked is that they didn’t pretend that they were doing an authentic life of Fela.
Finally, are you working on anything new at the moment?
MEMORIES OF THE AFRICA CENTRE AND
I saw some interesting plays there. That was where I first saw a contemporary black South African play. It would be a shame if it was closed down. I think foreign cultural centres where activities of a particular culture go on are vital for all communities so they don’t become too insular so they can have a comparative environment of the arts in general.
If one has the benefits to be able to live in an environment where there are centres of foreign cultures, one should be very grateful as it gives you a more rounded view. I don’t mean that you will know everything about that culture, no, but you will get a taste of it and that can actually trigger off creativities in you that you never knew existed. Those are some of the advantages.
Kwame Kwei- Armah