This complex co-production between Collective Artistes, The Young Vic and Bite:05, Barbican is part of Young Genius, a series of revivals of early works by established writers.
It sounds like a good idea until you ask yourself whether a mature reputation is necessarily served by exhuming early efforts. In the case of this astonishingly tedious play, written 50 years ago by a twentysomething Wole Soyinka, the answer is surely no.
Director Chuck Mike says all the right things in his programme note, but the gulf between aspiration and reality is wide. For a start, he apparently thinks the play is hilarious.
The slender story involves Sidi, the sweetheart of a Nigerian village, whose sense of self-worth soars when the pictures taken of her by an itinerant photographer are published in a glossy magazine.
Sidi is courted by two men - Lakunle the schoolteacher, who is impatient for modernisation and the rejection of old customs like paying a cash fee to prospective brides, and the ageing village chief Baroka. It seems that marriage to Baroka would prove undemanding since one of his wives has apparently made him impotent through black magic, though it eventually proves there is life in the old fox yet.
This tiny anecdote is spread out over two interminable hours with the aid of some dancing and drumming which, in its own right, is pleasant enough. But despite the efforts of a rather good cast Soyinka's writing refuses to sparkle. One exception that proves the rule is Lakunle's whimsical speech in the second act, setting out his vision of a thoroughly Westernised Nigeria, which had me suddenly wide awake and reaching for my notebook.
After the forest has been burned down, he envisages: " . . .we will print newpapers every day with pictures of seductive girls . . . the world will follow our progress by the girls who win beauty contests . . . Where is our school of ballroom dancing? Who here can throw a cocktail party . . . ?"
It's a flash of wit which unfortunately shows up the leaden character of most of the play. Altogether, another evening at the Rep to try your patience.
* Running time: Two hours 25 minutes. Until Saturday.