Monday 28 February 2022

From Eyilari to Lari Williams, era of exceptional stagecraft gone

Lari Williams. Pic: from National Concord, July 16, 1999. 

AFTER he founded a U.K-based group, Calabash Artistes, London (Repertory Theatre Company), Eyilari Williams returned to Nigeria in 1970s. The death of Williams, at the age of 81, was reportedly disclosed to the press by his family on Monday, February 28, 2022. He died in his hometown, Ikom, Cross Rivers State, in South South of Nigeria.

Known simply as Lari Williams, MFR, the actor and author, in his over 50 years of professional career, in Nigeria, has contributed, greatly, to the development of the country's screen and stage sub-divisions of the art and culture economy. Among his popular works on TV, as an actor, in Nigeria, were the rested 'Village Headmaster', 'Mirror In the Sun' and 'For Better For Worse'.

My first major encounter with Williams was in mid-1999. He had visited Uzzizts Cultural Garden, an event centre, in Festac Town, Lagos, where artistes, then, converge for rehearsals and other filmmaking-related activities. Williams and I had a chat over the state of The Arts of Nigeria. 

His purism in professional conduct, especially sticking to ethics was watertight. For example, later, when his interview was published—  with his first name in full —  in National Concord of July 16, 1999, he lamented not telling me to keep Eyilari out of the public glare. Curiously, during our chat, I had asked: Is 'Lari' as a name derived from Larry? "No," he said. He disclosed that 'Lari' is actually 'lari', which in Yoruba, could mean 'we have seen' or 'we saw'. He explained that it was "derived from Eyilari." He said, as an actor, he chose the last; 'Lari' as his stage name. He insisted that the shortened first name Lari has come to stay, no matter what.

Before his return to Nigeria, he studied Drama and Directing, at Montview Theatre School, London and later Creative Writing at University of Iowa, U.S. He was a member of British Actors Union, otherwise known as EQUITY; fellow in writing, University of Iowa; former teacher in Drama, Tollinghton School, North London; and  Drama teacher at Centre for Cultural Studies, University of Lagos, Akoka, Yaba, Lagos.

In Nigeria, he founded Lari Williams Play House, based in Lagos.  His works in literary field include 'Drumcall (Anthology of Poems), published by Barbican Books, London in conjunction with Fourth Dimension, Enugu, Nigeria; and Black Current and Storm Baby, published by Barbican.

As actor outside Nigeria, he performed on both BBC Radio and BBC TV in such works as Years of Gaat, Midnight Voices as well as Kolanut Junction on C.O.I. London. In Nigeria, he performed, among others, in such works as The Swamp Dwellers, by Wole Soyinka; Sizwe Banzi Is Dead, Isibru Ekperi,  The Trophy, Rebirth at Easter, The Island Shakespeare's Othello and Midsummer Night's Dream, Eruku and The Asabo Tail, by UNICAL Theatre.

Williams' filmography in the past include Lion Man-Elstree' in England;  Cry Freedom, shot in Ghana; The Eye of Life, in Oyo, Nigeria; and Omen of Love, Lagos, Nigeria.

When filmmaking went into the electronic and digital age in Nigeria, Williams' early appearances were in  Forever, Bleeding Heart, Black Power, Blood Money II, Sojourn and Full Moon, among others.

 -Tajudeen Sowole.

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