- Soyinka: Blackout, Blowout, and Beyond—Satirical Revue Sketches
This edition of African Theatre, dedicated to Soyinka,s seventieth birthday, is a book we have been waiting for. It brings together in one volume his early experiments in satirical revue sketches, or what is known as "guerilla theater." The explosive title recalls his most famous works in the genre: Before the Blackout (1962–1964), Before the Blowout (1978–1979), and Before the Deluge (1992–1993).The cautionary note in these captions captures the unique role of the artist, in Soyinka's aesthetics, as his community's voice of reason and conscience, of someone destined to sounds a note of warning before the impending explosion. Each of these revue sketches addressed explosive situations in Nigeria's political life, and because the poet's warning was not heeded, a blowout became inevitable. Before the Blackout preceded the social anomy that precipitated the first military coup of 1966 and the long years of disruptions that followed. Before the Blowout exposed the real motive behind the politicians' rush for political power during the general elections of 1979, and Before the Deluge raised awareness to the dictatorship crimes of Babangida and Abacha during the late 1980s and the '90s. The revue sketches from the early '60s up to the early '90s are here published in full, with an illuminating introduction by Martin Banham showing the connection between some of the revues and Soyinka's later work.
Three of Soyinka's students who collaborated with him in the production of some of the revue sketches offer valuable comments on the occasions that inspired them, as well as the way the poet's mind was working during the creation and production of the materials, so that their essays ("A Personal Memoir" by Joachim Fiebach; "Notes on Soyinka's Sketch Material" by Chuck Mike; and "Soyinka's Guerilla Theatre, University of Ife" by Ahmed Yerima ) would be fascinating to any student who would like to do serious work on Soyinka's experiments in guerilla theater.
But for me, the most important event in this collection is the discovery of the famous early play The Invention, a play that some of us only know second-hand in the reviews by veteran and privileged Soyinka scholars like Martin Banham and Bernth Lindfors. This play is reproduced here in flesh and blood. The Editors' Notes give the occasion that inspired the play and the place of its first performance. It is a play that "toys with science" and "confronts the situation in South Africa." It was first performed at the Royal Court Theatre, London, in 1959. The reception by the London press was not favorable, and this, I suspect, might be due to the dense obscurity of the play's dramatic method; for the play is written in the usual, and often tasking, elliptical style of Soyinka's drama of essence. Impatient readers can hardly make their way through the play, or decipher what is happening from the minimal expository details at his disposal. We can guess, by way of the play's storyline, that an American nuclear rocket to Jupiter missed its target and blew up with a terrible explosion as it landed mysteriously in a disused mineshaft [End Page 225] in Johannesburg. But the blast had a racial repercussion for the apartheid regime of South Africa, then at the height of its power. It obliterated the difference in pigmentation between white and black, upon which a team of the country's leading scientists supported with state fund swore to discover a chemical (elixir) that would help the authorities to re-establish each individual's original color. One upstart scientist claimed that he had made the discovery. He had discovered a chemical and a testing machine that could verify the race of any man or woman in less than one second. The claim gave him international reputation as the Inventor, and his testing...