Esther’s Revenge: An intimate slice of murder at Lagos Theatre Festival 2018

Based on a true story, Esther’s Revenge, shown at the Lagos Theatre Festival struck an adventurous note, with dynamic staging and a strong turn from Christina Oshuniyi as the eponymous heroine. Set in Ibadan in the 1950s, the story has all the ingredients for an explosive piece of theatre; race and racism, murder, rape and betrayal. Directed by Kenneth Ukpokpoh, the play centres on the story of Esther, a young woman who dreams of success as a fashion designer; who falls in love with Mark and lives with him until she stabs him with a pair of scissors. The drama in this production begins as Ether is on trial for Mark’s murder. In this production, the audience is invited to deliberate on Esther’s fate, whether she is to be hung or pardoned. Staged within the grounds of Freedom Park, a former colonial era prison, which has now become a museum and cultural centre, this production, brings the story richly to life. The setting is perhaps one of the strongest aspects of this production. Still, more could have been done to give a sense of time and place, which is 1950s Ibadan; without a glimpse at the play bill, it would have been difficult to get any sense of it from either the set or the dialogue of the play. Despite being a two-hander, it is very much a play in which the title character bears most of the emotional weight and credibility. Oshuniyi does not disappoint, oscillating between the vehemence of a scorned woman demanding justice to a young naïve woman falling for the charms of a well to do white man. Her performance is both emotionally complex and physically dextrous. Nevertheless, the narrative loses its energy in the middle of the play, only truly recovering as the drama reaches its denouement. Notwithstanding the attractive economy of a two man production, one feels there could have been a more imaginative attempt to bring in other voices into the play, and still maintain the sense that it is still very much Esther’s narrative being experienced. The incorporation of the audience, as a panel of jurists sent to decide on Esther’s fate, works well, though whether such a set up would be effective for a longer run is up for debate. Despite its limitations, Esther’s revenge is a supremely effective and thought provoking piece of intimate theatre.

Dele Meiji

Dele Meiji is a writer.