By margaretta wa gacheru (3 October 2018)
It’s not only the film world that is bearing witness to the artistic talents of young Kenyans. Even the theatre realm is veritably exploding as new companies are proliferating in ways we haven’t seen for quite some time.
Gratefully, we count on Heartstrings Entertainment for regularly bringing us invigorating plays like their current comedy, ‘Last Man Standing’ on at Alliance Francaise through Sunday.
Heartstrings are renowned for inciting laughs even as they provide a heavy punch of perceptive insight into the Kenyan psyche and the cultural quirks that are troubling most wananchi right now.
The other consistent theatre troupe that re-opens in ‘Necessary Madness’ the following Monday, 8th October for two days, is Hearts of Art. ‘Madness’ had to come back after filling Braeburn Theatre last month, leaving local theatre goers clamoring to see more performances.
I was one of those who plagued Walter Sitati, the ‘Madness’ playwright and founder of HOA. The play has such a powerful and relevant message that I felt everyone ought to see corrupt traffic cops being exposed on stage.
It’s a play that has some qualities in common with Heartstrings in that it blends humor and tragic fact. But Sitati additionally combines eloquence and social satire in a way that makes us marvel at how he keeps coming out with ingenious new scripts.
The other troupe that is relatively new but which is already coming out consistently with incredible shows is Mbeki Mwalimu’s Back to the Basics. Mbeki will stage ‘Breathe: stories by Jackson Biko’ from October 19 at Alliance Francaise.
But it’s the number of new troupes taking off that I am most enthused about. We just saw Sanifu Productions successfully staged ‘night, Mother’ a fortnight ago. Justin Miriichi and Mildred Sakina are the co-founders of this brand new theatre troupe. They both have heaps of theatrical experience, so when they say they want to produce shows that have the sort of social impact that can affect positive change, we believe they will.
Meanwhile, Joe Kinyua and Samson Psenjin were back on stage in ‘Prisoner in Us’ last month. They both had been ‘prisoners’ of TV and film productions. But they’ve recommitted themselves to the stage, having also just formed a new theatre company called Behind the Scenes Productions.
“Expect to see our first show this coming November,” says Kinyua who gave a marvelously mad performance as Mel in The Friends Ensemble show. Psenjin played his older brother who’d always lived in Mel’s shadow. But in real life, they are two of Nairobi’s favorite actors who were often seen on stage at the old Phoenix Theatre.
The other new theatre company is TTT (Tony Tini Tone) Productions which actually started a couple of years back, but didn’t concentrate on plays until last weekend when they staged ‘The Money that Made Him Poor’ by Tina Nduba-Banja at the Louis Leakey Auditorium.
Nduba-Banja is an award-winning Kenyan playwright who also wrote The Groove Theory. In ‘The Money that made him poor,’ we saw another story about the corrupting power of money (which is also a theme of ‘Necessary Madness).
However, what makes this well-crafted play so intriguing is the way we see the insidious means by which a good man (Noah Kovola) is seduced. Even more than that, we see how, once he lets down his guard and falls into the seductress’s (Anne Mwaura) trap, he’s now sadly capable of doing any dastardly thing.
Nduba-Banja both wrote and directed her play which ensured she got the best out of her cast. For me, her script was a psychological thriller since it wasn’t clear initially that the young man, Wilberforce, was going to be seduced by Sofia. We knew he was naïve and relatively new to the ways of the world. What’s more, his uncle (Benson Ochungo) who had taken him under his wing after his father died, was an ethical businessman who could have served as Will’s role model.
But Sofia is a wily, sophisticated crook who’s experienced in using and then dumping men. Her mistake is apparently starting to seriously care about the guy. The play’s message is plain: follow corruption and you’ll eventually have to pay.
Finally, Aperture Africa is busy rehearsing yet another one of their dazzling musical fantasies. ‘Cinderella’ will be staged the weekend of October 26th. More details to follow but for now, just know Amar and Jinita Desai don’t joke when it comes to creating theatrical extravaganzas that are colorful, beautifully choreographed and well cast.