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Contributor: Juwon Ogungbe

Wild Iris - a multi- racial company - is steadily building a reputation as one of the UK?s most engaging ensembles. Started by theatre artistes Adjoa Andoh and Polly Irwin, the company represented Britain at last year?s (1995) IBSEN festival in Norway with its production of ?A Dolls House?. Wild Iris also won a Time Out Magazine drama award for its production of Katherine Trotters?s ?Love at a Loss? - a restoration comedy which the company also recorded for Radio 3.
?Death..?, the company?s most recent production - written by the prolific Biyi Bandele - is certainly more than an amusing storytelling piece. Prophet Emefa is a modern Nigeria religious guru who leaves Lagos to set up in Kafanchan in Northern Nigeria with a little help from a couple. The woman suffers from epilepsy which the prophet recognises as a sign of good luck as revealed to him in a vision. When he joins forces with the family, the husband finds himself sidelined in his own home. The wife becomes Emefa?s mystical muse - a spiritual conduit who conveys God?s messages at Emefa?s church services by speaking in tongues.
These three form an unbeatable combination, running all the other churches in Kafanchan out of town. Emefa?s creed is influenced by Yoruba as well as christian cosmology. His mode of worship is eccentric enough to include boogie woogie piano music as played by James P Johnson - an African American pianist of yore. The husband is taught by Emefa how to recreate these loose limbed tunes during services, to evoke his special church atmosphere.
The husband is driven to distraction by the dangerously close relationship enjoyed by the prophet with his wife. She, for her own part, seems to live in a perpetual state of religious ecstasy.
Bandele seems to be commenting on the roles of heroes in societies in a similar way to Synge in ?Playboy of the Western World?. Emefa, deluded by his own sense of omnipotence decides to prove his power over a lion n front of a crowd of devoted followers - with hilarious, if disastrous, consequences.
The intimate conversational tone used by Bandele in the storytelling sequences is engaging and funny. However the play could have done with more dramatic interaction.
Akim Mogaji is exciting as the overshadowed husband. This character is easily recognisable as a Nigerian ?little man?. Mogaji raises the character to near epic dimensions by consistently maintaining a nerdy quality which is never less than thrilling. Chad Sheperd cuts a dashing figure as a latter day Brother Jero (the errant priest in Wole Soyinka?s ?Trials of Brother Jero?) and Adjoa Andoh is endearingly funny as a dazed madame who still wears the pants in the household. Thumbs up to Polly Irwin who directed the piece well enough to retain its Nigerian flavour.
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