THE STORY’S THE ESSENCE OF GOOD THEATRE
BY margaretta wa gacheru
Wise, enriching and wonderful storytelling was the order of this past weekend, starting off at Goethe Institute with Dr Mshai Mwangola and Susan Kung’u, author of her new memoir Life is a Gift, then shifting to Tribe Hotel where Davina Leonard gave an utterly enchanting performance of ‘Every Brilliant Thing’ and finally to the Oshwal Centre where Aperture Africa presented a spectacularly silly yet splendidly soulful story of a family reunion.
Mshai set the stage for the weekend with her marvelous story about why she loved the Story and even got her Ph.D in it so she could more easily share whatever social message she wished to impart with the simplicity, charm and subtle depth that storytelling provides.
Mshai paved the way for Susan Kung’u who was meant to launch her book, all about a British lady who found her way to Kenya and among other things, became a marvelous storyteller herself as she revealed during the Goethe launch.
Davina Leonard wasn’t billed as a storyteller per se, but Saturday night at The Tribe she too charmed and mesmerized her audience with a captivating tale about a little girl whose mum was suicidal.
Told as if it were an intimate first-hand account, we watched the little girl grew up and coped with her mum’s malady by creating a list of ‘every brilliant things’ to give the mum so she might find meaning in any one of those brilliant things and stop trying to take her life.
The list took on increasing significance as the little girl grew up. It became almost therapeutic as it helped her also cope with the depression she experienced later on In her life.
But even before the show took off officially, Davina had begun to engage her audience, a feat that she continued throughout her performance.
She might have been an usher as she handed out small sheets of paper and advised each person to say the words on the sheet once their number (also there) was called.
But if her initial informality seemed spontaneous, it also aroused curiosity once her storytelling actually began. She kept everyone on their toes, conscious that at any moment this skillful performing artist might call them to speak and become part of the story itself.
It was a fascinating technique, especially when she got audience members to stand up with her and become either a vet, dad, therapist, hand-puppet or even lover compelled to propose on bended knee!
Davina’s approach was so disarming, so daring and deeply moving that by the time her tale was done, she had her audience up and offering standing ovations to this delightful storyteller and soulful performing artist.
Finally, Aperture Africa’s ‘It Runs in the Family’ also told a story only it’s wrapped in frivolity and farce. The story’s about Nurse Jane (Sheila Okatch) who arrives after 19 years’ absence to inform Dr Mortimer (Pritul Raithatha) that she’s got his son (Bonaya Siri) who’s now in trouble and needs his father to save the day.
But Jane couldn’t’ve picked a worse day to return since Mortimer’s meant to give the keynote address momentarily to an international audience of neurologists. Pandemonium ensues as Jane had told her son his dad’s a doctor and works at that hospital. The son (sporting a Francophone accent) goes berserk as he tries to find his dad. So wild does he become that the police (Bilal Wanjau) are called in to investigate.
Mortimer in trying to cover-up the story about his son creates a series of whopper lies, aided by his buddy Dr Bonney (Hiren Vara) who eventually agrees to become the ‘father’ to save Mortimer’s marriage and career.
It’s a zany tale with several sub-plots interspersed in the show. It’s also very different from Aperture’s previous production, Jungle Book the Musical. But the cast was well-rehearsed, and kept up the fast and farcical momentum of Ray Cooney’s clever script.
What was also good to see was Aperture’s way of masterfully mixing its cast to make the production a show that can attract a cross-section of Kenyans to come see future plays.
Finally, this weekend, the ‘Revolution Art Hub’ will stage an original musical production entitled ‘She is’. Scripted collectively by the group but based on the life of one of its members, the show will star Faith Shikande and feature spoken word poetry, music and dance.
‘She is’ will highlight issues of domestic violence, eating disorders, and human trafficking.
On Saturday at the Museum’s Louis Leakey Auditorium and Sunday at Kenya National Theatre, She is will run from 5-9pm.