SOAS University of London

Department of the Languages and Cultures of Africa

Ying Cheng

BA (dual degree in Chinese/English Literature) from Beijing Normal University, MA (Asian and African Languages and Literatures) from Peking University
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Miss Ying Cheng
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Thesis title:
Is Theatre Dying in Nigeria? Recycling Popular Theatre in Metropolitan Lagos
Internal Supervisors

PhD Research

My PhD thesis examines the transformation of popular theatre culture in urban Nigeria since the early 1990s, a period when almost all the more than one hundred Yorùbá travelling theatres “disappeared” from the public or switched over to making films. Unlike the pessimistic laments of “theatre is dead in Nigeria” among theatre scholars and critics, the argument here resists the anxiety about the “decline” of theatre in Nigeria. Based on an examination of theatre practices by a younger generation of theatre practitioners, especially a ghetto based youth theatre troupe - Crown Troupe of Africa, I argue that popular theatre in Nigeria has been transformed into a culture practice marked by fantastic entrepreneurial spirit, strong space-making consciousness and radical sociopolitical commitment. As a peripheral site of mobility and sociality, theatre in Nigeria has become a platform for opening up critical debates on the uses of public space, and for forging radical politics among young theatre practitioners and their audiences.

By interpreting theatre as a spatial practice, I suggest a new way of inserting theatre studies into popular culture studies and urban studies in Africa. The research engages with the complexity of the concepts and theorizations in these scholarly areas (Barber 1987, Newell and Okome 2014, Diouf and Fredericks 2014, Obadare and Willems 2014, Chabal 2009, Quayson 2014, Simone 2004), concepts such as the “popular” and the “everyday,” “African urbanism,” “youth” and “civic agency”, and contributes to debates around the subversive and resistance potential of popular culture and its role in the constitution of urban publics. Aware of the risk of over-celebrating the creative agency of the marginal urban youths my thesis documents and analyses, I root my understanding of these concepts in the everyday life and the living reality of these popular culture practitioners. During this PhD project, I have conducted theatre and performance art related researches in Lagos, Ibadan in Nigeria (as well as some other African cities such as Johannesburg, Cape Town and Nairobi).


  • Cheng, Ying. 2016. "‘Naija Halloween or wetin?’: Naija superheroes and a time-traveling performance." Journal of African Cultural Studies 28(3): 275-282.
  • Cheng, Ying. 2016.“China meets South Africa in the theatre: some recent South African work about China & in China, & The Year of China in South Africa” in African Theatre 15: China, India & the Eastern World, edited by Martin Banham, James Gibbs, Femi Osofisan. Oxford: James Currey, 2016. (Forthcoming)
  • Cheng, Ying. 2014. "Bàrígà boys’ urban experience: making manifest (im) mobility through mobile performances." The SOAS Journal of Postgraduate Research Vol. 7: 48-62.
  • Cheng, Ying. 2013. “‘A story is like the wind’: West African storytelling tradition in Femi Osofisan’s plays.” In Annual Review of African Studies in China, edited by Anshan, Li. Beijing: Peking University Press.


  • Cheng, Ying. “‘We Get Like Say We No Get’: The Journey of a Jerrycan and the Politics of Oil in Nigeria.” Cadbury conference “Money Judgment in Africa.” Birmingham, UK, May 2015.
  • Cheng, Ying. “Flowing Archives and Unpredictable Futures: Understanding Emeka Ogboh’s ‘Lagos State of Mind’.” African Literature Association Annual Conference, Bayreuth, Germany, June 2015.
  • Cheng, Ying and Olusegun Titus. “I No Go Agree!”: Reinterpreting Fela’s Music in the 2012 Occupy Nigeria Movement.” International Conference “Cultures of Struggle”, University of Johannesburg, South Africa, May 2015.
  • “‘Garbage Boys’ in the Afropolis: Protest from the Below.” Cadbury conference on “Class in Africa: A Reassessment”, Birmingham, UK, May 2014.
  • Cheng, Ying. “Performing the Everyday African Urbanism: The Exploration of Public Space by Contemporary Theatre Troupes in Lagos and Cape Town.” “Theatre and Stratification”: International Federation for Theatre Research (IFTR) World Congress. Warwick, UK, July 2014.
  • Invited participant: “Theatre and Civil Society” program, Brown International Advanced Research Institutes, Brown University, USA, June 2013.