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Reviewed by:
  • Theatre and Postcolonial Desires
  • James Gibbs
Theatre and Postcolonial Desires BY Awam AmkpaLondon: Routledge, 2004. xiv + 206 pp. ISBN 0-415-31287-6 cloth.

Near Zaria during 1984, Awam Amkpa took the role of Dauda in a theatre for development drama entitled The Story of Samaru. He describes the character he played as "intellectually pretentious" and refers to the way that Dauda and another "stock character" were "unable to agree on almost anything. . . ." Amkpa, whose parents hailed from Lokoja, was brought up in Kano, and studied at the Universities of Ile-Ife, Ahmadu Bello, and Bristol, before teaching at, for example, King Alfred's College, Winchester, and New York University. He has combined academic study of theatre with practical experience, and, in addition to performing in the streets of Samaru, Zaria, he worked on John Arden's Sergeant Musgrave's Dance in Ife and directed a film of Tess Onwueme's The Reign of Wazobia in the US.

Amkpa's interest is in the "tormented legacy of empire" and in the "dramaturgies of resistance in' Nigeria and England, and Theatre and Postcolonial Desires addresses these issues. The book is as wide in scope as Amkpa's full cv might lead one to expect. The first part includes studies of plays by Wole Soyinka, Femi Osofisan and Tess Onwueme, of the Yoruba Traveling Theatre and of aspects of theatre for development. The second consists of chapter on John Arden, David Edgar, Caryl Churchill, Monstrous Regiment, Gay Sweatshop and Tunde Ikoli.

There is a challenging breadth of vision in this arrangement, but the detail of Amkpa's analysis does not always convince. For example, the emphasis on England and use of the term "English" reflects a conviction that the British Empire is better [End Page 146] understood as the English Empire. Pursuit of this conceit leads Amkpa to write that his "father worked for the English," and sometimes wore "jackets with buttons emblazoned with the English coat of arms" (3). This attitude to history undermines the foundation for a convincing academic thesis.

In developing his ideas Amkpa creates his own vocabulary and definitions. On a single page, he writes of "a version of European modernity that I call 'colonial modernity,"' of "what I describe as an 'inter-modernist' landscape" and of having come to define theatre for himself "as a process of enacting and scoring signifiers which enable audiences to identify or counter-identify with the ideological discourses informing the performance" (5) The case for such individualism would have been more convincing if Amkpa had shown himself a more scrupulous writer. However, this is an author whose text includes "Negritudism" (37), "Manichean binary" (85), "urban cities" (91), and "tarpaulin canvas" (94).

Eshu the trickster deity has played his part, and the names of those to whom Amkpa refers—not in the bibliography since surprisingly there is none—include "Margaret Perham Smith" (188, presumably [Lady] Joan Smith); Karen (Karin) Barber; and Peter Brooks (presumably Brook) (18). The Routledge editor must have dozed at that point.

Amkpa thinks Soyinka was born in 1931 and that he has written a play entitled King Ubaku (21 and 24). Amkpa assumes that Soyinka's Pilkings entertains the Prince of Wales "in his official residence" (35), and this kind of mis-reading casts doubt on his judgments, including his claim that Elesin is able to "tyrannize the market women" and his view that Jane Pilkings is "portrayed as a simpleton" (37). Often stimulating, Amkpa's volume sometimes comes across as flamboyant rather than well-founded, intellectually pretentious rather than convincing.

James Gibbs
University of the West of England, Bristol


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