Lessons from “The Lion And The Jewel” staged by ASWARA students
Students from Bachelor of Theatre (Hons) at the Akademi Seni Budaya dan Warisan Kebangsaan (ASWARA) recreates “The Lion and The Jewel”, a play by Nigerian writer Wole Soyinka that was first performed in 1959, fully adapted into the Malay language for their Penilaian Tahun Akhir (PeTA).
The play is set in Ilujinle, a Yoruba tribal village in Western Nigeria. There are 3 central characters: Lakunle, an eager but naive schoolteacher who accepts Western ideas and modernity without really understanding them; Baroka, the village chief, who sees modern ideas as a threat to his power; and Sidi, a beautiful woman who is the jewel of the village will choose one of the men for a husband. Meanwhile, Baroka’s senior wife Sadiku seethes inside. Women have little power in the traditional society, but watch as they are begin to question their roles.
ARTERI spoke to the play’s Director, Syafiq Aiman and actors Aizzat Fiqrie (acting as Lakunle) and Eira Raduan (acting as Sadiku). Here’s what they have to say:
What made you and your team decide to do this play? What attracted you to the story?
Syafiq: It was actually a suggestion from the Faculty of Theatre as it was staged before in Universiti Malaya back in 2010. A few of our lecturers were involved in the play and they thought that it would be a good time to re-stage the play and to test my creativity as a director. From my point of view, we as Malaysians are not really exposed to the African culture and its traditions, but after doing some research I found that the African culture is very beautiful and it deserves to be shared to the Malaysian public.
Eira: The most interesting thing in this play is the culture. I agree with Syafiq, because in Malaysia, we are not very exposed to African culture. So, I think it’s time for us to tell how amazing African culture is.
What makes The Lion and The Jewel unique from other plays/musicals? Will the play feature original music, costumes and choreography?
Aizzat: African Theatre has music, dance and acting like a normal musical, but what sets them apart is that they incorporate mime into their performances. The script also puts a huge emphasis on movements.
Syafiq: Africa is rich with arts, music, dances and beautiful prints. All of those elements have their own uniqueness and it will be shown through this play with the help of my designers and music director. But of course, we added our own spin to it to make it more personal.
What was the most challenging obstacle you faced while working on this play and how did you overcome it?
Syafiq: There’s a lot of challenges that me, myself as a director faced. At first, I didn’t really understand the messages the play was trying to convey. I had a hard time understanding the words as they were translated and had implicit meanings. It was definitely a long process to get here, my team and I are doing the best we can to stage this performance for the audiences to enjoy.
Aizzat: As for me, the most challenging part would be finding cultural information about Yoruba. It’s definitely not easy to find the right information. We tried communicating with our lecturers who have previously performed in this play as well as going to the library to collect information to avoid any inconsistencies in the information, so that we can depict the African culture accurately.
Eira: I think cultural appropriation was one of the biggest challenges that we faced while trying to prepare for this performance. I think communication is really important to avoid any form of misunderstanding.
The Lion and The Jewel is a story set in a tribal village of Western Nigeria. How do you see our local audiences resonate with the story? Are there any similarities to our society?
Aizzat: In my opinion, there are some similarities to our society. In Malaysia, we have indigenous people, more commonly known as “Orang Asli” who are still practicing their traditional values. But what’s different here is that the “Orang Asli” are more open and more receptive to change. Many of our indigenous communities migrate to the city and bring “modern” influences back to their village. Whereas in this play and in Africa, many of the various tribes still hold on to their traditional culture and beliefs. This is because culture is a very important part of their lives.
Eira: I think that it has similarities with our society where nowadays the younger generation has slowly forgotten the traditional values and customs in the pursuit of modernization.
What do you hope to convey to the audience via this play? Are there any key points that we can look forward to when watching it?
Aizzat: This play examines the conflict between traditional Nigerian Yoruba values and the Western influence of Nigeria’s colonizers. Furthermore, this play shows the importance of how people from different cultures should be given the opportunity to exercise their right to cultural practiced in a way peculiar to its people. Besides, this play can also be analyzed from a feminist standpoint concerning the role of women in the Yoruba society. Women have little power in the traditional society, but they are beginning to question their role.
Is this play suitable for children and families to watch?
Syafiq: This play contains adult themes and/or content that may not be suitable for children to watch. It is open to the general public.
What are the plans after The Lion and The Jewel? Will the play be taken on tour or will you be working on a new play? Can you share with us what might be the next story you will be working on?
Syafiq: After finishing our final year project, we will be having an internship programme at a designated place where we will be working with outsiders. As for me, after my internship programme, I will be focusing more on acting in the future. As for the play, I will leave everything to God, if there’s any offer for us to restage the play, we will gladly do it.
Aizzat & Eira: I think our main focus now is on “The Lion and The Jewel” our final year project and to graduate. But if any opportunity arises, we will gladly take it.
“The Lion and The Jewel” will be staged on 20 January 2019 at Black Box ASWARA, 8.30pm. Entry by donation.