Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Madmen and Specialists by Wole Soyinka (winner 1986)

I actually didn’t dislike Madmen and Specialists by Wole Soyinka, for the most part – the insistence on chanting, repetitive lines in parts got on my nerves, as does repetitiveness in any form. I must confess, however, that I didn’t have much of a clue what was going on through most of the play. Not in terms of the action per se, but in the mentalities. There just wasn’t the sort of background information you’d have in a novel, say, to illuminate the weird African world of wise women, cannibalism and cults. I would assume that the cannibalism was symbolic, but the play insists upon its literalness, and then what are we to make of the witches-in-Macbeth-esque crones? Remnants of traditional African society or some sort of strange social commentary? The brief introduction informs me that the cult of ‘As’ is ‘an ironic expression of horror at… the universal triumph of expediency and power lust’ but can’t say I would have got that on my own. Enigmatically, the note before one long speech reads ‘the speech should be varied with the topicality and locale of the time’ (allowing even more latitude than Echegaray over the choice of furniture!) but then it’s so African-centric I fail to see how it could be altered according to locale, and as for topicality, I suppose the author assumes there will always have been a recent war to serve as the backdrop of his play.

One speech in particular caught my eye:
‘you cyst, you cyst, you splint in the arrow of arrogance, the dog in dogma, tick of a heretic, the tick in politics, the mock of democracy, the mar of Marxism, a tic of the fanatic, the boo in buddhism, the ham in Mohammed, the dash in the criss-cross of Christ, a dot on the i of ego an ass in the mass, the ash in ashram, a boot in kibbutz, the pee of priesthood, the peepee of perfect priesthood, oh how dare you raise your hindquarters you dog of dogma and cast the scent of your existence on the lamp-post of Destiny you HOLE IN THE ZERO of NOTHING!’
He overuses ‘tick’ but other than that it’s an arresting speech and I imagine it would be fun to act.

I think it’s the sort of play you need to see rather than read, which is after all the point of plays.


Anonymous said...

Oh evil gwan. You inspired me to act out the speech from the play and all was going swimmingly until I reached the pee and peepee. Then my brilliant interpretation led to me being arrested and charged with indecent exposure. Arrrgghh!

Gwan said...

Plead artistic license I'll be a witness