Chaucerians at the NCS Congress in Reykjavik, Iceland, were treated to a multi-media production of Ufuoma Overo-Tarimo’s The Miller’s Tale: Wahala Dey-O! on Wednesday, 16 July 2014 at the Tjarnarbíó across from City Hall. (At left, Jonathan Hsy, Ufuoma Overo-Tarimo, and Candace Barrington,)
The production begins with a live performance of Overo-Tarimo’s dramatic adaptation of The General Prologue set in Nigeria and draws on African folk traditions of storytelling intermingled with music, drums, and gossip. Once the storytelling framework is established, the production moves to a filmed adaptation of The Millers Tale. Overo-Tarimo had planned to use live actors in this segment–just as she had in her production at Edinburgh’s 2012 Fringe Festival. Because, however, key Nigerian actors were unable to secure visas, she shot a pilot film of the play in Nigeria.
Overo-Tarimo’s adaptation of The Miller’s Tale incorporates many explicit Nigerian elements. As she explains,
“Nigeria as a nation is made up of many tribes and I try to reflect this reality in the various characters. For example, Abusolon’s character is from the North of Nigeria who has moved to Ibadan in the West of Nigeria to start a new life. As a refugee, he is particularly sensitive because of the massacre experience of his family and village in the North where traumatic killings have taken place and still happening. Hence, security is one of the most challenging issues for the country with the rise of Boko Haram and other terrorists groups. His dream is to eventually move abroad to the UK or US, where he believes all his problems will be solved. In t he meantime, he falls in love with Alice, who taunts and rejects his love and adds to his torment. Nikori is from the same Urhobo tribe as the carpenter; hence, he enjoys partial treatment and is implicitly trusted by the carpenter. … “Julie you too like money” is a stereotypical reference to Julie’s [a servant in Carpenter John’s household] Igbo tribe, who are known to be industrious, and Alice’s love of dressing and partying is reference to her Yoruba tribe’s uwambe ‘good time’ associations. Rabiu [another servant] is from Akwa Ibom, a tribe known for their domestic hard work and loyalty.”
The songs of Abusolon/Absolon are based on Nigerian styles. The dialogue is conducted in a mixture of Nigerian Pidgin English and the Queen’s English, thereby establishing social divisions and enlivening the comedy. Nikori/Nicholas, the university student who seduces Alice/Alisoun, uses a form of black magic, a cultic practice associated in Nigeria with some universities. Throughout, the bane of Nigerian urban life–the blackout–weaves its way through the tale, ultimately providing the context for the misdirected kiss and Abusolon’s retribution.
The cast in both the live and the filmed portions reflect the production’s international flavor. Hailing from Nigeria, Britain, and Iceland, they made Overo-Tarimo’s The Miller’s Tale: Wahala Dey O! a global Chaucer.
(At left, Candace and Jonathan with the cast from the live production.)