Death and the King’s Horsemen is a play based on events that took place in Oyo, an ancient Yoruba city of Nigeria, in 1946
Wole Soyinka’s powerful play concerns the intertwined lives of Elesin Oba, the king’s chief horseman; his son, Olunde, now studying medicine in England; and Simon Pilkings, the colonial district officer.
The king has died and Elesin, his chief horseman, is expected by law and custom to commit suicide and accompany his ruler to heaven. The stage is set for a dramatic climax when Pilkings learns of the ritual and decides to intervene and Elesin’s son arrives home.
Wole Soyinka has written a powerful drama which treats of culture clash, ancient and modern custom, racial assumptions, entitlements, the clash of the sexes and of religions as well as of history. There is also the unsubtle history of colonialism and British superiority with condescension sprinkled throughout the dramatic interactions
“The action of the play is as inevitable and eloquent as in Antigone: a clash of values and cultures so fundamental that tragedy issues: a tragedy for each individual, each tribe” Daily Telegraph
“This play, by the winner of a Nobel Prize for Literature, asks: ‘On the authority of what gods’ the white aliens rupture the world. It puts exciting political theatre back on the agenda…a masterpiece of 20th century drama” Guardian