Wednesday, 16 May 2018

BRECHT AT HIS BEST IN NPAS' CAUCASIAN CHALK CIRCLE

                                             Grusha (Nyokabi Macharia) with baby Michael in Caucasian Chalk Circle

SET TEXTS GET EXTREME MAKE-OVER AT NATIONAL THEATRE

By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 16 May 2018)

The staging of set texts will never be the same now that Nairobi Performing Arts Studio decided to produce Bertolt Brecht’s ‘Caucasian Chalk Circle’ and Pauline Kea’s ‘Kigogo’ for Kenya’s secondary schools. NPAS’s two plays opened this past Wednesday and will run through next Thursday, performing for free for children whose schools can get them to the National Theatre (preferably on time!)
                                                      Coup ring leader intimidates his troops in Caucasian Chalk Circle

“I think quite a few of these children have never been to the theatre before,” says NPAS founder and artistic director Stuart Nash. “We’re staging the shows for free in Nairobi to schools that have had less exposure to theatre,” he adds, acknowledging that the Studio is covering the costs which can’t be  small since the cast of both plays is substantial and the theatre itself comes at a price.
Fortunately for NPAS, they have a deal with Kenya Cultural Centre to operate NPAS at the theatre in exchange for three significant productions annually. What’s more, most of the cast members are NPAS’ students, thus confirming that their drama ‘prof’, the former West End of London actor-director-composer, Mr Nash, is also an outstanding producer-director.
                                      Grusha (Nyokabi Macharia) and soldier Simon (Chika Omo) pledge their love

Both plays are often taken around to schools and staged by amateur companies. But there’s no comparison between the NPAS productions and others. For one thing, Mr Nash auditioned some of Nairobi’s best actors and found Elsaphan Njora (Kati Kati) the perfect fit to play Azdak, the judge who creates the chalk circle test as a way of finding out who’s the true mother of the baby boy Michael (played by four-month old Prince Perde).
Michael gets carelessly left behind by his biological mother (Stella Nyambura) as she flees from the military coup that’s bent on destroying her husband, the Governor and his claim to power. The baby is left with Grusha (Nyokabi Macharia), a lovely peasant girl (who has the most gorgeous a cappella voice) who’s betrothed to soldier Simon (Chika Amo). But as Simon must leave her to go off to war, she ends up adopting the child and eventually must be judged by Azdak to determine if she or his biological mom is the real mother.
Besides having a marvelous (and massive) cast, including a captivating (and campy) Storyteller (Fanuel Mulwa) who pops up all around the theatre (both on and off the stage) injecting incisive tidbits to the story, Mr Nash has utilized the entire theatre for the dramatization of Brecht’s brilliant play, a work which exquisitely illustrates the way politics and art can be fused together without damaging the artistry or being so didactic as to turn audiences off.
For instance, in the opening moments of the play, the government’s spokesman speaks to peasants on stage from the balcony. That’s also where Grusha and Michael climb aboard ‘the bridge’, a tall metallic scaffold which gets rolled down the auditorium’s centre aisle to the stage where she and the baby leap onto ‘dry land’.
And when the coup is underway, the peasantry run helter skelter up and down auditorium aisles, startling but delighting students who’ve never seen a play like this before. The staging is most memorable, but so are Grusha’s songs and Azdak’s outlandish style of passing judgment. It’s a show that not only students but all theatre lovers need to go and see.
                                         Abdi (Maina Olwenya) kidnapped Patrick North (Matt Stannah) for a reason

Meanwhile, last night Silvia Cassini staged ‘A Man Like You’ at the Radisson Blu Hotel at the invitation of a private security firm that appreciates theatre, particularly Ms Cassini’s dramatic script about an intimate interchange between Abdi, a Somali so-called terrorist (Maina Olywena) and the British diplomat, Patrick North who Abdi and his colleague Hassan (Amwoma Mboga) have kidnapped.
The production has intrigued audiences all the way from Nairobi, Harare and Cape Town to New York and Hong Kong. Each time Ms Cassini does it she’s directed a slightly different cast. Davina Leonard as North’s long-suffering wife and Amwoma as Somali who doesn’t ‘make nice’ with North, are the two constants in the show. But this time round, it’s the New York-based, Kenya-born actor Matt Stannah who plays North as he did when the show was staged off-Broadway last year. And Maina Olywena returns as Abdi, the Somali who shares the perspective that the British, not his people, are the true terrorists.
Martin Kigondu also brought ‘What Happens in the Night’ back on stage, this time to Braeburn Theatre last weekend, starring Nick Ndeda, Marrianne Nungo, Bilal Mwaura, Shiviske Shivisi and Salim Gitau.
                                                   Martin Kigondu thanking his cast of 'What Happens in the Night'

Finally, Zippy Okoth is directing ‘Contract Love’ June 1st and 2nd at Kenya National Theatre.



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