Research in African Literatures 30.4 (1999) 205-207
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An Introduction to Post-Colonial Theatre, by Brian Crow with Chris Banfield. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1996.
The recent spate of critical work addressing postcolonial writing has tended to be heavily theoretical or heavily specialized in genre or region. The study of postcolonial theater that Brian Crow offers us (with the contribution of Chris Banfield) combines both theory and in-depth genre specialization with the accent on the cultural artefact of theater, as the title conveys, rather than on drama (or the written text). The theoretical introduction and conclusion frame seven chapters devoted to a wide variety of major theater practitioners from the postcolonial world which we are told is constituted both by the Third World and the "subordinated cultures" in the First World. This first volume in the Cambridge Studies in Modern Theatre introduces a series purporting to lay particular emphasis on the interrelationship between political and social factors and the cultural artform of the theater in any given society. Before discussing the largely innovative approach adopted in this work, it is perhaps necessary to look first at what dictated the particular choice of subject matter.
An assumption is made at the beginning of the book, both in preface and introduction, that the reader will automatically understand that only those postcolonial societies having been once dominated by the British Empire will be under discussion. This choice is understandable but should perhaps have been made more explicit and justified by the fact that contextualizing the post-British colonial contribution to postcolonial theater in general might indeed have led the authors far off track. However, once this preliminary has been accepted, the choice of theater practitioners is both original, revealing, and varied. The contents of the book appear to be grouped as a geopolitical progression with the American and Australian contributions leading up to an obligatory passage through Africa at the heart of the study to the final chapters on Asia. The first three chapters are devoted to "Derek Walcott and a Caribbean Theater of Revelation," "August Wilson's Theatre of the Blues," and "Jack Davis and the Drama of Aboriginal History." These first three examples can each be said to illuminate (as Crow will point out in the introduction to his chapter on Soyinka) societies where the oppressed through displacement of whole communities [End Page 205] and political domination have over long periods been to a great extent deprived of their original cultural background. The resurrection and appropriation of this background lead on to the central study of the book, as stated earlier, that on Soyinka. The Nobel prizewinner, steeped in both colonial learning and his own African Yoruba metaphysical and ritual, almost rises above "postcolonialism" in that the protest expressed in his drama is rather against all misuses of power than specifically against that of neocolonialism.
The choice of Athol Fugard that follows is justified, it seems, by the addition to the chapter heading of "and the South African 'Workshop' Play." Fugard himself has a complicated postcolonial status: he belongs by birth to what David Kerr would refer to as the "subaltern" classes, being of Irish and Afrikaner extraction, born in white British-dominated South Africa before the rise to power of the Afrikaner Nationalist Party. Fugard, however proud he may be of what he considers his anti-British origins, is nevertheless a member of the white settler community and as such his presence in this study can surprise. Crow has chosen a very specific aspect of Fugard's work that concerns his collaborative workshops with African actors who contributed their "life-experiences" to the elaboration of the theatrical text in its most general sense. More obvious choices appear in the contributions of Banfield on two Indian theater dramatists who are recuperating and reinterpreting their own cultural past, which had been confined to a cultural ghetto with the introduction of Western theatrical forms by the colonists. That these precolonial forms remained a vigorous and living presence for India's rural millions only adds to the interest of their reappropriation by Badal Sircar...