Of demons, ghosts in Yeats: The Only Jealousy of Emer on stage in Lagos

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The Only Jealousy of Emer, written by famous Irish writer, William Butler Yeats was performed at the Freedom Park, Lagos
The Only Jealousy of Emer, written by famous Irish writer, William Butler Yeats was performed at the Freedom Park, Lagos

A scene from the play

Recently Ireland-based Nigerian actors, Yemi Adenuga, Deji Adenuga, Oluwayomi Ogunyemi, Esosa Ighodaro, Penelope Anyaji-Aniuzu, and Deola Gimbiya, who joined up in Lagos, performed The Only Jealousy of Emer, written by famous Irish writer, William Butler Yeats at Freedom Park, Lagos.

It was the presentation of Nigerian Carnival Ireland, a Nigerian-centric culture outfit managed by the Adenugas. Ray Yeates directed it.

The play centres around a mythic Irish hero Cuchulainn, who has killed his son and in grief attempts to fight the sea.

Half drowned, he lies in a state between life and death, with his wife and mistress watching over him. His wife asks his mistress to summon him from the dead.

Strange events occur, as Cuchulainn has, in fact, been replaced by a changeling, and they try tirelessly to get him back, bringing onto the stage demons, ghosts and the supernatural.

According to the promoters, “The play encapsulates a great sense of multiculturalism with the contribution of Nigerian Carnival Ireland.

It puts an interesting spin on the play as it is combining both Nigerian and Irish cultures to create a unique masterpiece, that those with a high regard and interest in culture and theatre would thoroughly enjoy.”

Yemi Adenuga told the audience how their company, Nigerian Carnival Ireland, was changing the Nigerian and African narrative positively in Ireland through using music and food to bring different people together largely for reorientation about the continent. It is a testimony of the trust that Ireland officials have in what the couple is doing that fostered the collaboration with Ireland’s officials to tour Lagos with The Only Jealousy of Emer, a play by Ireland’s culture icon.

A short play indeed, The Only Jealousy of Emer came close to delivering its promise but for the open amphi-theatre at Freedom Park, where it was performed. The elements took a wild turn and interfered badly with the body microphones to render audibility difficult for the small audience. It became a struggle to follow.

The director, Yeates, however, described bringing the performance to Nigeria, with an all Nigerian cast, as an inter-cultural project and link between Ireland and Nigeria. He took for granted the similarities between Ireland and Nigeria in their strong beliefs in demons, ghosts and the supernatural.

By performing the in Nigeria, it is the hope of Yeates that Nigerians would see how much in common the two cultures share in terms of beliefs.

However, while it may serve as a sort of cultural reaffirmation the timing of the performance leaves a sore taste in the mouth. In an age of the Internet and space travel, one wonders why Ireland should be exporting supernatural beliefs to Africa/Nigeria.

While Yeats was serving to preserve the mythologies of his native Ireland back in the 1920s, it is hardly the reality of the sensibility of today’s Africans/Nigerians, who are in a hurry to get out of a dark past that does not seem to hold any allure for Nigeria’s millenials.

Surely, Yeat has other plays with more contemporary import in tune with Nigerian reality than The Only Jealousy of Emer to sit well with Nigerians. Perhaps for Irish people, the myth of Cuchulainn still holds some allure but certainly not Nigerians.

Even Nigerian plays with mythic origin such as Wole Soyinka’s Wasted Breed, JP Clark’s Ozidi, Ola Rotimi’s Ovonramwen Nogbaisi, and Jude Idada’s Oduduwa: King of the Edos usually have some messages for the audience. Yeat’s play offers no such dramatic value.

Perhaps, Nigerian Carnival Ireland would do well to forge cultural connection between Ireland and Nigeria with a more relevant play in their next outing and not just export Irish ghosts and demons to the Nigerian stage.