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FASORANTI, Abiola Olubunmi: The Aesthetics of Adapting and Directing Stage Plays for the Screen

The Aesthetics of Adapting and Directing Stage Plays for the Screen: Problems and Prospects

Abiola Olubunmi FASORANTI

School of Performing and Visual Arts

Kwara State University, Malete, Nigeria



The culture of adapting play scripts for film production in Nollywood is no longer new. In fact, adaptation has over the years become one of the reliable channels of sourcing for good stories worthy of production for the Nollywood screen writers. However, adaptation as an art is not without its challenges, it involves series of creative but tasking processes which only the determined can successfully embark upon. The processes of adaptation from stage plays to screen production/film and its aesthetic values therefore, become the focus of this paper. It will also comparatively and critically analyse Ola Rotimi's The Gods are not to Blame, an adaptation of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex and Funke Fayoyin’s "The Gods are still not to Blame.” In the same vein, the paper will appraise the production of the video film under focus, as directed by Funke Fayoyin. The research concludes that the screen production of Funke Fayoyin’s “The Gods are still not to Blame” has been able to re-enact Sophocles original play – Oedipus Rex and Ola Rotimi’s The Gods are not to Blame in a creative and dynamic way. The researcher, therefore, concludes that the production of “The Gods are still not to Blame” has not only made Sophocles and Ola Rotimi’s plays popular; it has also added wealth to the creative bank of Nigerians artists. It is therefore suggested that Nollywood practitioners should explore this powerful poetic justice of being able to adapt stage plays for the screen medium for the purpose of repositioning Nollywood towards the promotion of Nigeria’s security and national development.


Basically, video film plays a vital role in entertaining, educating, sensitizing and giving necessary information to its audience. However, the roles of video-film go beyond entertainment and education, it also performs the role of nation building; for instance, film can be used as a tool for conflict resolution and national security. Nollywood practitioners, aware of this positive potentials of their art, have therefore, seized the opportunity to use film as a weapon of creating positive change in the socio-cultural, political, religious and economic situation of Nigeria. It is in the light of this discovery that this paper presents the art of adaptation from a play script to screen script some Nigerian plays that have been written for the purpose of nation building and national security, and also, making them into video films for a larger audience. This act, we believe will go a long way in reaching the most concerned people more than when staged in a theatre for a fewer audience.

Although, the play used as a case study for this research work has nothing to do with national security or nation building other than the fate and destiny of man, rather, it emphasises and celebrates the art of adaptation from stage play to screen script which is the researcher’s own contribution to the discourse on “repositioning Nollywood for the promotion of Nigeria’s diplomacy and national security.” Therefore, Funke Fayoyin’s “The Gods are still not to Blame” an adaptation of Ola Rotimi’s The Gods are not to Blame has come to fore in this paper for analysis.

In the Nigerian movie industry, stage plays of Akinwumi Isola (Efunsetan Aniwura), Wole Soyinka (Kongi’s Harvest, The Lion and the Jewel), Ola Rotimi (The Gods are not to Blame), Femi Osofisan (Restless Run of Locusts) and so on, have been adapted for the screen medium. First, it was Wale Adenuga Productions that adapted Ola Rotimi’s The Gods are not to Blame for the screen (Super Story); now, it is Funke Fayoyin, a young female film writer and director.

Although, Nollywood is credited with a lot of educative and informative plots which have brought immeasurable economic, socio-cultural, political, psychological, mental and physical growth and development to the nation and her people, but the industry is not without its own challenges, especially in the area of adaptation from stage play to screen script. As much as some film script writers and directors are trying to embrace and explore the art of adaptation from stage script to film script, they are often faced with the challenges of lack of skills needed. This work therefore, analyses the adaptation of Ola Rotimis’s The Gods are not to Blame by Funke Fayoyin, which she titled, The Gods are still not to Blame in relation to how a good play adaptation for the screen medium should be written.

Fundamentals of Adaptation from Play Scripts to Video Film Script

Adaptation from play script to video film script involves series of creativity. First, the play to be adapted must be read over and over again in order to understand the message therein. Apart from the message of the play, the adapter must embark on critical play analysis of the script in question; this is in order to understand the play’s thematic preoccupation, characterization, genre, setting, period, plot structure, language and so on. Understanding the material for the adaptation will enhance the creative prowess of the adapter.

Although, it has been observed that most Nigerian films, either adaptation or not are done without scripts, a lot of Nigerian film makers prefer to work based on improvisation. Undoubtedly, this is one of the reasons why some Nigerian films are not well produced. Amoboni, Otidi, and Omayeku observe this Nollywood menace in their works; while Umar condemns the improvisational method of shooting and making of film in Igala land, he laments by saying that, “most films produced in Igala land has no script or has no proper scripting…, The lack of script culture reduces the quality of this film” (113). Nwabueze also observes that, lack or absence of qualitative script is the major problem in the Nigerian film industry (40). Nwabueze buttresses his point by saying that, without a good script, there can be no good play or film. It is in light of the above that that this researcher is of the opinion that film makers in Nollywood should endeavour to have their film scripted before shooting.

It has been argued over and over again that there is hardly no clear difference between stage plays and screen plays, and that a story is a story. Yes, we agree with this view, but not totally. While trying to drive home his point, Riley Briggs argues that,

unless you are talking about a shooting script, there really isn’t a difference. The screenplay refers to the actual blueprint to which the film is built around, but a lot of things in the screenplay may not make it into the final product. All this before shooting... (Wikipedia).

Paul Bartlett, in his own explanation, sees no specific difference in both stage play and screen, saying:

they are pretty much the same. Sometimes writers refer to their pre-production scripts as a “screenplay”, as it is more pristine and directly represents the story better as its’ easier to read. After a script/screenplay goes into production, things like camera angles and actors marks, prop specifics, and such are added, making it harder to read just the basic action and dialogue (Wikipedia).

However, this researcher believes that no matter how similar both scripts are, there are bounds to be one or two differences which distinguish one form the other. This is why it has become so necessary for an adapter to be familiar and understand the features of both scripts before embarking on the adaptation of the stage play. Umukoro, while differentiating between the two, states that:

while the stage writer conceives of his art as a series of connected movements motivated by dialogue, the screen writer visualizes his plot as a series of motion pictures interspersed by dialogue and sound. Although both the stage and screen are audio-visual media, they differ in relation to the proportion of the audio elements to the visual (106).

The major tool of a stage play is the dialogue, which will be said/rendered by other important instrument in the play – the characters. The playwright uses the character to achieve his aim, speak his voice, and present his cause to the world through the use of dialogue. On stage, the character’s (actor’s) voice and body are needed for driving the play to the intended audience. However, in a film script, apart from the dialogue and characters, there is a need for sound, pictures and other elements which will be discussed later in this paper. In the words of Umukoro,

the beauty of a film resides not as much in the dialogues, which may be few or far between, as in the visual aesthetics reinforced by appropriate sound effects and musical accompaniment. Thus, the screen writer discharges his vision as concatenation of discrete images which tell a logical story accentuated with sound and music… (107).

Therefore, a video film script must be well written so as to bring out its beauty. It must be captivating enough to catch the attention of the director; it must also be interesting enough for the audience to yearn for more after watching. It is therefore, important for an adapter who wants to shoot a stage play into film to be familiar with the features of both stage play and screen script as listed below

Features of a Stage Play script

A good play script must have the following features:  

  1. Plot Structure: When an idea is conceived, the creative development of the idea becomes the synopsis from which the plot is then structured. “Plot is an organisation of the actions in the play into a whole that tells a story without action and dialogue” (Yerima 62). It is a scene-by-scene arrangement of the storyline, the plot structure “provides the basis for the dramatic action” (Umukoro 103).
  1. Characters: The characters in a play are very important, through them; the actions of the play are driven. The characters are empowered by the playwright to speak, move, drive, sleep, eat, dance, sing and so on.  
  1. Dialogue: Dialogue is the words spoken by the character. Dialogue is very important tool in play writing, the characters’ behaviours, feelings, emotions, traits and mannerism are formed through the words they speak. The relationship between a character and the other can also be defined through their dialogue. The mood of a character can also be determined by his dialogue.
  1. Stage Instructions: these are guidelines for the directors who may want to direct the play and the actors. Stage directions help readers, directors and actors understand the situation better. Some locations and environment are described with stage instruction while some actions are taken place only in the stage instructions.
  1. Language: this is a medium of communication in literature; a writer may choose to write in English, French, German, Yoruba, Ibo or Hausa Language. Some writers, although they write in a familiar language, may choose to be complex while some will write in a simple but correct language. While many consider Williams Shakespeare’s and Wole Soyinka’s plays complex, they see Femi Osofisan’s and Ola Rotimi’s plays easily digested in term of language.
  1. Conflict: conflict is the soul of drama, a play without conflict is not good. While writing a play, there must a crises that must be resolved which will bring about the search for a solution.

Features of a Film/Screen Script

While a stage play has only one edition of the script, except it is a trilogy like Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus and Antigone, a film script, on the other hand, is in two major stages. The first stage is the writer’s draft which contains the following:

  1. Development of idea: The first stage in the creative work of screen script writings is the development of the idea into a synopsis which will later generate into the plot.
  1. b)Plot development: This refers to the storyline of the script, from the beginning to the middle and end of the play. The storyline must be complete and abide by the laws of the genre the writer has chosen.
  1. Scenic breakdown: Here, the plot is already formed and are broken down into scenes  
  1. Characters’ profiles/Character mapping: These are the histories, background stories of the characters in the script. In character’s mapping, names are very important. This is where back story is done for the character so as to be familiar with them.
  1. e)Dialogue: Dialogue is powerful tool of an actor in a film, although, video film is a sight-based medium but it can only be more beautiful with the addition of dialogue. Through the dialogue, the audience understands the message of the film and the basis for the crises in the film. Through, dialogue, the genre of the film is known, the moods of the actors are reflected, the roles of the actors are determined. Dialogue in film should be crisp, short and precise. Also, film dialogue should be interesting, captivating, poetic, dramatic, and intriguing.
  1. f)Development of rhythm: Rhythm here refers to sound, flow or prosody in the dialogue.

The first stage of script writing is for the director and the actors, while the second stage is for the technical crew. The script contains the storyline with dialogue, situation, location, sound and music, description of characters and so on for the technical crew so as to be able to carry out their own assignments with ease. The technical crew includes the director of photography, location manager, costumier, sound/music director, choreographer, and so on

The Aesthetics and Prospects of Adaptation from a Play Script to a Film Script

The beauty of an adapted film from a stage play depends on the director and other crew members. If the film is not well shot or the storyline is marred in the process of adaptation, the whole effort of the adapter will be in vain. It is therefore, not necessary for the play to be directly adapted, there is bound to be one or two changes, such changes may be in the setting, characters’ names or period of the play, however, it is important for the adaptation to have an obvious link to the original material. Hence, Ebioge in Emasealu opines that, a “successful adaptation must have recognizable affinal links with the original on which the adaptation is based, but must at the same time be distinguishable from the original” (2). This affinal links which may be in the storyline or title of the make it easy for the reader to have interest in reading it at all cost.

The successful transportation of Sophocle’s Oedipus Rex into Yoruba setting as, The Gods are not to Blame made the play popular in Nigeria. The beauty of the adaptation is not only seen in its change of setting but Rotimi’s ability to write the play to fit well into Yoruba setting. Other elements which made the adaptation beautiful is Rotimi’s use of dramatic elements such as songs, Yoruba proverbs and idioms, chants, incantations, dialogue, conflicts, suspense and so on. Emasealu, while appraising Rotimi’s adaptation of Sophocle’s Oedipus Rex states that,

the major factor for which this enterprise of Ola Rotimi has been celebrated the world over is hinged on the outstanding success of seamlessly transplanting and domesticating the Greek culture on the Yoruba soil and traditional environment. Rotimi’s success in this regard makes a bold argument about the Universality of cultures and traditions, and drama’s own capacity to reveal and foreground this fact (43).

When the adapted play is shot into film and seen by a larger audience, it will gain more recognition and acceptance. The issue of complex language as often complained by theatre audience when certain stage plays are produced will also be tackled if such play is shot into film. Almost all Shakespeare’s plays have been adapted for the screen; this has helped a lot of people both Westerners and Africans audience to understand the plays. There is, therefore, no gainsaying the fact that film adaptation of a stage play also plays an interpretative role for the play. It is therefore, in light of the above that this researcher believes in the art of adapting stage plays for the screen.

Comparative Analysis and Production Appraisal of Ola Rotimi's The Gods are not to Blame and Funke Fayoyin’s "The Gods are still not to Blame"

Interestingly, the storyline which served as the original material for the adaptation of Funke Fayoyin’s The Gods are still not to Blame is on its own an adaptation of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, a Greek Classic. This, therefore, makes Fayoyin’s work an adaptation of an adaptation. It is in light of this that we agree that creativity is endless; the concluding part of a creative is the introduction of another ingenious work.

Although, Funke Fayoyin is not formally trained as a scriptwriter but, she has learned the art on the job which is why she was able to write the script herself. She has an intriguing style to the way she tells and develops the film story. Funke Fayoyin intelligently handled the directing of the video-film by adding all the elements of film productions which brought about an aesthetically pleasing film. “The gods are still not to blame is a modern dramaturgical experiment” Fayoyin (guardian). Just like Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex and Ola Rotimis’s The Gods are not to Blame, the movie reconnoitres the concepts of fate and destiny.

Though, the film is based on the The Gods are not to Blame by Ola Rotimi, however, some changes were made in the film that differentiate the film from the original material. The first to be noticed in the video-film is the setting, while Ola Rotimi’s The Gods are not to Blame is a traditional Yoruba setting; Funke Fayoyin’s “The Gods are still not to Blame” is a modern/contemporary Yoruba setting. The film thrives on suspense; it is jolting to discover that Nicolas Payne is the killer of his father, the King. Fayoyin also employed the use of proverbs and intriguing poetic rendition.

Nicolas Payne, a soldier who has recently been posted to Nigeria finds himself in a relationship with a much older woman, who also happens to be a Queen. This relationship brings about chaotic consequences to both Nicolas Payne and the Queen in the future.. Fayoyin, having done justice to the adaptation of the play by writing a good screen script also completes it with employment of professionals as cast and crew of the film production. The ilk of Carol King, Ireti Doyle, Gabriel Afolayan, Akin Lewis, Bukky Ajayi, Bayo Alawiye, Dele Odule, Segun Akindele, Yemi Elebuibon, Nobert Young, Gloria Anozie-Young, Moji Olaiya, Kareem Adepoju, Funso Adeolu, and so on, flooded the film. There is, therefore, no doubt that the play is categorized as one of the best stage to screen adaptations in the recent time.

           Funke Fayoyin, being the scriptwriter, helps the designers in line with her vision. She worked with the costumier, lighting and set designer; technicians, props manager and so on, she gave her contribution as the script writer and director. The combine efforts of the film director and other crew members eventually results beautifully produced film. In all, the the story was well adapted and enacted.

In the stage production of The Gods are not to Blame, the director, Rasaki Ojo Bakare carried his audience along and drew them into Odewale’s journey. The audience identified with the characters in the play the many of them were shedding tears as Odewale’s destiny caught up with him. From the directing of the play to the set designs, lighting, sound, stage props, Bakare created the right atmosphere. Holistically, entire production with the combination of costume, dance, chants, acrobatic display acting and all the theatrical components was gratifying. The characters played their roles well, lines rendered appropriately. The drumming, freezing techniques, sound effect and a lot of dances added colour to the play. The narrator was a good actor, the dirges and acting of Odewale made the audience cry, they felt the pain and purged their emotions.’

Bakare used dialogue to reveal the protagonist and antagonist; he used dance, soliloquies, pantomimic dramatisation, song, drumming and chants to set the mood for the play and to tell the story. He explained the thrust of the conflict, confrontations/oppositions in the play through the aforementioned communication mediums. The special effects in the play created a compelling appeal and aura for the audience. The lighting, costume and make up, setting/scenery and mise-en-scene made the play an unforgettable one. There is an elaborate use of dance in The Gods are not to Blame as directed by Rasaki Ojo Bakare.

In “The Gods are still not to Blame,” Funke Fayoyin used dialogue appropriately. She also used sound effects to enhance the overall sound quality and aesthetic reality in the film. Fayoyin also intermittently used music to heighten the unfolding action. She also employed the use of suspense in the play. One very unique and creative thing done by Fayoyin is the fact that she brought the ancient Greek play as written by Sophocles and ancient and traditional Yoruba play as written by Ola Rotimi into the contemporary Nigerian setting with virtually all the tribes and ethnic groups represented. This indeed is a plus to the production as the film became popular demand and the crew began to travel with it to other countries after been shown in Nigeria. “It is obvious that, the film industry in Nigeria has grown to the level that, it now commands international attention” (Duniya 500).

Funke Fayoyin, being the one who visualized the script worked quite well with the cinematographer, the sound designer and the director of photography. She guided the technical crew and the actors in the fulfilment of her script and directorial vision. The choice of locations for each scene seemed to blend well with the dialogues.

There is no way we can do proper justice to the comparative analyses of the stage production of Ola Rotimi’s The Gods are not to Blame and its adaptation, “The Gods are still not to Blame.” This is because, though they are from the same source – Oedipus Rex, they are not the same in the sense that, when Ola Rotimi wrote The Gods are not to Blame, he had the stage in mind, while Fayoyin has the screen in mind when adapting the play. However, both productions, as directed by Bakare on stage and as directed by Fayoyin for the screen are productions that can never be forgotten in a hurry.


This paper concludes that the adaptation of Ola Rotimi’s The Gods are not to Blame, titled, “The Gods are still not to Blame” by Funke Fayoyin has been able to re-enact the original play – in a creative and dynamic way. The film production of the adaptation has given the play popularity even among the unlearned in Nigeria and beyond. Therefore, this researcher is of the opinion that plays with very important messages, plays where political, socio-cultural and economic development of a nation are discussed should be adapted for the screen in order to reach wider audience and for the purpose of repositioning Nollywood towards nation-building and national security.

Works Cited

Abdullahi Lawal. “Historiography in Popular Culture: A Study of Mufu Ollossa Oko.” Gowon Ama Doki & Ted Anyebe. Quality Assurance: Theatre, Media and the Creative Enterprises. Proceedings of SONTA 2013 Conference.

Duniyan, Gambo Giles. “The Imperatives of Design and Visual Aesthetics Towards Quality Assurance in the Nigerian Film Industry.” Gowon Ama Doki & Ted Anyebe. Quality Assurance: Theatre, Media and the Creative Enterprises. Proceedings of SONTA 2013 Conference.

Emasealu, Emmanuel. The Theatre of Ola Rotimi: Production and Production Dynamics. Abuja: Gurara Publishing, 2010.

Ojadale, Umar Ali. “Crises of Content: The need for Quality Assurance in Igala Video Films.” Gowon Ama Doki & Ted Anyebe. Quality Assurance: Theatre, Media and the Creative Enterprises. Proceedings of SONTA 2013 Conference.

Umukoro, Mathew. “The Playwright and the New Media.” Izevbaye, D., Adesanoye, F., Layiwola, D. (Eds.), A Handbook for Nigerian Creative Writers. Ibadan: Nigerian Academy of Letters, 2013.

Yerima, Ahmed. “Playwriting.” Izevbaye, D., Adesanoye, F., Layiwola, D. (Eds.), A Handbook for Nigerian Creative Writers. Ibadan: Nigerian Academy of Letters, 2013.

Nwabueze, Emeka. Interview in Vanguard Newspaper. 9 Sept. 2007.