Two of the titans in Nairobi theatre were staging shows this past weekend just across town from one another.
There was Festival of Creative Arts (FCA) staging Tit for Tat at the Louis Leakey Auditorium and Heartstrings Entertainment putting on Don’t Disturb at Alliance Francaise.
Both companies produced comedies that had similar themes, namely wooing in male-female relationships. Nonetheless, one of them (Don’t Disturb) was more family-friendly (and thus could probably have easily passed an Ezekiel Mutua ‘morality test’). Meanwhile, the other (Tit for Tat) was more frivolous (and most likely would have failed if they’d been nabbed by the not-yet-established ‘morality police’).
For those who may not know, Mr Mutua is CEO of the Kenya Film Classification Board who is trying to get a bill passed through Parliament which would regulate not just films but also plays, determining if they could be staged, or not.
The reason Tit for Tat might have a challenge if somebody establishes a law regulating public morality is because the play is all about cheating, cheating by the father on his wife and vice versa as well as cheating by their daughter on her parents with her boyfriend and even the boyfriend cheats on his girl.
Don’t Disturb also has a cheater but in the case of Nick Kwach’s character, he’s only playing a game to get the girl. Pretending to ignore his god-mother’s attractive daughter, he’s secretly keen on her but wants to find out if he’ll wound her feminine ego. As it turns out, she’s not impressed by this apparently egotistic man and switches off her attraction for him. Ultimately, he’s charmed by her authenticity and their relationship blossoms in the end.
Both plays rely on their comedians to move their stories’ forward and add the levity, lively humor, charm and combustible energy that makes the shows a success. Tit for Tat relies on Timothy Ndisi while Don’t Disturb has Cyprian Osoro and Victor Nyaati playing clever fools.
All three play house help, but despite their subordinate status, all three are the characters who add the chili powder and savory sauce to make both shows deliciously funny, be they frivolous, family friend or none of the above.
Clearly Nairobi audiences have a taste for both theatre troupes and come out dutifully for their shows. It’s understandable since both produce plays that may be light-weight and undemanding intellectually, but they are invariably well-rehearsed, impeccably timed and the actors always work together as a well-oiled ensemble.
One only feels disappointed that these titans don’t put up more demanding productions, especially now that the Kenya Schools and Colleges Drama Festival has rolled around with entertaining plays that also grapple with timely social topics like corruption and climate change. But then if they did the same, their fans might very well fall away.