Research in African Literatures 30.4 (1999) 222-223
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Nigerian Theatre in English: A Critical Bibliography, by Chris Dunton. Bibliographical Research in African Literatures 5. London: Hans Zell, 1998. ISBN 1-873836-71-6 cloth. 366 pp. £60/US$100.
In October 1998, Hans Zell wrote that "it now looks as though this is the end of the line for the Hans Zell imprint." It seemed at one point that Christ Dunton's groundbreaking critical bibliography of Nigerian theater in English might fall victim to "changes within the Reed corporate structure," or the management policy of the Bowker-Saur portfolio.Thanks to determination, positive forces triumphed and a fifth title has been added to Zell's distinguished, multiple award-winning Bibliographical Research in African Literatures books. Guest edited by Bernth Lindfors, the series has set standards for bibliographical studies in the field.
The bulk of the latest volume, taking up some 260 pages of its 366 pages, are annotated entries on 528 Nigerian plays. This is preceded by an introduction and followed by a "Subject, Thematic and Generic Index" (279-89); a survey, and then a bibliography, of secondary texts; indices of dramatists, critics, and play titles. The whole, beautifully produced, represents painstaking scholarship. Those "wild hunters" who venture into the "bush of ghosts" that is Nigerian drama will long owe Dunton, and his disappearing publisher, a huge debt. A pathmaker and road builder with Ogunian qualities, Dunton has accomplished an heroic task.
Many will be astonished at the variety represented by the 528 plays he has tracked down. More will be challenged by his critical analyses. A couple of quotations provide a flavor of his sharp judgments and helpful methodology. The entry on Tunji Fatilewa's Torrents of Soweto concludes: "The seriousness of the subject-matter is hardly done justice to by a play that is, however sincere, sadly inept" (77). Dunton, the teacher and enlightener, is often ready with a useful cross-reference—as can be seen from the note on Femi Osofisan's A Restless Run ofLocusts. There he observes: "An especially useful discussion of the play that focuses on its treatment of Nigerian politics and the strategies and conduct of political parties is in Ukpokodu 1996" (211). The bibliographer's coverage of dramatists is comprehensive; his use of critical material published in a wide range of journals and books—there are few citations from the press—selective.
The volume is a monument to thorough investigation and good sense, but, inevitably, there will be points at which readers will perceive gaps or have valid questions. For example, the libraries Dunton scoured may not have had a copy of Nigerian Theatre Journal number 2, and so Samson Amali's citation on Ene Henshaw in that issue is not used. The collections of "Onitsha Market Literature" he searched through do not seem to have included Okenwa Olisa's "My Wife: About Husband and Wife Who Hate Them-Selves," printed by Nnaji Central Printing Press, Urualla-Orlu, which, I think, qualifies for an entry. And an error, yes, I found one, has somehow crept in to the reference to Tunde Ikoli's Scrape off the Black—which comes out as Scrape of theBlack (8-9). Those who have read or seen this poignant play about a mixed-race child growing up in a white household in the UK will register the importance of the title. [End Page 222]
The reference to Ikoli's play is to be found in the thoughtful introduction where Dunton sets out the principles on which he proceeded in arranging his volume. Readers of RAL will be interested to note that the discussion about whether or not to annotate plays in Pidgin English takes up points made by Alamin Mazuri in this publication (26:1 : 148-50). With characteristic discrimination, and firmness, Dunton justifies his inclusion of plays in Pidgin, and the volume is the richer for the decision.
The introduction also includes an illuminating account of the conditions under which Nigerian playwrights work, strive to have their plays produced, and endeavor to publish. We...