Camwood on the Leaves, a radio play by Prof. Wole Soyinka adapted for the stage by Kenneth Uphopho‘s Performing Arts Workshop & Studios to mark the playwright’s 80th birthday, has a slim cast of six but it packs a punch—there is no dull moment, from the first scene to the last. In fact, Camwood is one of the few plays I have seen where the audience is so fully absorbed in the unfolding drama that they are keen to see what happens next.
Here’s the story: Ishola, the 16-year-old son of a hunter-turned-preacher, has got Morounke, the 15-year-old-daughter of a wealthy and influential chief in the community, pregnant. Both families are shocked and upset by the news and the young man is the butt of every form of attack conceivable, verbal and physical. He is the outcast in a society that thinks little of what children think or feel, or what they choose to do with their lives without their parents’ consent, especially when they yield to “immoral temptations”.
For one, the Reverend couldn’t stand the fact that his oldest son has chosen to join the masquerade society and roam the street “with pagans” in the day and when they offer “bestial sacrifices” in the dead of night, when he should be more active in church and attend Sunday school dutifully—like children his age are expected to do.
“Ishola has brought nothing but shame and disgrace to this family,” the father says to his wife, Moji, during one of his many fits of anger. In one scene,, in between kicks and punches, he looks Ishola in the face and tells him: “You are a child of sorrow, you are completely lost. You have sold your heart to the devil.”
Morounke’s parents were unrelenting in their own attacks on the Reverend’s household, invading his home at will and threatening fire and brimstone while he meditated in the church.
“He has led my daughter astray,” Ngozi, Morounke’s mother, wails.
“No one bears any love for him in this town,” a visibly angry Chief Olumorin declares, justify his decision to send touts after Ishola, who has by then fled from home to seek refuge in a hideaway in the forest.
In the turmoil both families have been thrown into, it is Moji who stands as the voice of defiance and reason. She is a mother’s mother through and through, a mother every child wants on their side when the world is against them. Ishola is cursed throughout this play but he soon develops a thick skin to the countless abuses that comes his way; and not strangely, Moji is the one who wears the grief on her sleeve. She sheds all the tears that should come from Ishola’s eyes. When Reverend loses his cool, which happens often, it is Moji who tries to calm him down; when the Olumorins rant and rave, it is Moji who stands up to them, sometimes appealing to their sense of understanding—to no avail.
“My son does not deserve curses—only correction,” she cries at one point.
“We must rescue him. We can’t drive him out in shame,” she says at another.
Though Ishola impregnates Morounke and turns his back on Christianity to embrace traditional worship, his own way of asserting coming of age, Moji sees her son’s actions as an innocent slip, a failing anyone is prone to, though she never fails to talk sense to the heady boy when she gets an opportunity. “If you could model yourself on him (Reverend), others will follow your footsteps,” she tells him in the sitting room one day when the Reverend is away.
Ishola, now past caring what becomes of his parents, is unrepentant. He has joined the Masquerades’ ‘choir’ and there is no going back. “Why don’t you raise your hand and kill me? Why break me in pieces?” a crestfallen Moji is heard saying.
While both families are at each other’s neck over the unexpected pregnancy, the young lovers couldn’t care less if the heat consumed their parents; now cohabiting in their own little nest in the forest, they both hold fast to their mutual affection. And evidently content in their own little universe, they go snail hunting at dusk, chattering happily and content just hearing each other’s voice.
Throughout the play, the actors take us from one peak experience to another—right to the very end. As often happens when humans are deaf to reason, the worst happens. When all has been said and (un)done, what series of dialogues and fighting couldn’t settle a bullet did. Reviewed by Pelu Awofeso (@PeluAwofeso)