In the wake, as it were, of the King’s death, Elesin, Horseman of Oyo, is expected to commit ritual suicide and cross over to The Other Place. Elesin (Nonso Anozie) chooses a ceremonial bride, and begins his preparations. Drums beat, women sing. A lot.

The District Officer, Mr Pilkings, is agin the whole business (based on real events in the late 1940s), and in the name of good Christian values he urgently sets about disrupting events. “I did my duty as I saw it”, he will later remark. Make of that what you will.

Wole Soyinka makes of it a parable about the chaos engendered by imperial whites who mistook domestic stability for decent governance, imposed hopeless conflicts of duty and conscience on their subjects, or, indeed, took it upon themselves to civilise other people’s kids.

There’s no missing the crunch moment: Olunde, the Horseman’s son, returns, fresh from Oxford (or perhaps it was The Other Place), in suit and tie, and walks straight into his educational sponsor, Mrs Pilkings, got up in the ‘fancy dress’ of a sacred Yoruba death mask. “I have now spent four years in your country”, he snaps, pompously. “I have learned that you have no respect for what you do not understand.”

The acting is tip-top and the production quite the visual and aural spectacle we’ve come to expect from the National in recent years. But I was not at all surprised to learn that this is only the second British production of the 30-year-old drama.

The play is verbose, sanctimonious, and basically wrong (a T-shirt for many a playwright-Laureate, there). Chacun a son gout, as they say in Lagos; but hands up who thinks there was any point sending Olunde to study medicine if he was going to cling to the belief that he can speak to dead ancestors? Yeah, yeah, tribal traditions, ancient ways of life, etc – down that road lies beetroot as a cure for Aids.

This dodgy cultural relativism was compounded by the decision to have an all-black cast. Heavy-laden with irony though it was, the sight of actors in white-face had too much of the minstrel show about it (the actors in question, incidentally, are called Lucian and Jenny). It all worked for Soyinka’s purposes; but I was left with the feeling that, even in the theatre, two wrongs don’t make a right.

I heard only one voice of dissent from a substantially black audience. The accents weren’t right, she said. She’d been there. She knew.

National Theatre’s Olivier Theatre, until June 17. Tickets: £10-£30. 0207 452 3000 (