Abu Sense and Bryan Ngartia won a Sanaa Theatre award for Too Early for Birds
By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 5 December 2018)
(originally posted from US, Wilmette after watching it on YouTube in January 2018)
At last a first class original Kenyan production that grabs the meaty drama of the country’s recent history and turns it into brilliant theatre.
‘Too early for birds’ is a production that deserves to return tonight to the Kenya National Theatre where just a few nights ago, it practically brought the house down, so well received it was by the hefty house-full crowd.
Clearly the word had spread among a new generation of enthusiastic theatre-goers beforehand that Ngartia’s and Abu Sense’s hybrid production was something very special to see.
It’s a show that combines snappy stand-up storytelling with hip-hop and slam-styled poetry, R&B and a range of revolutionary moments in Kenya’s recent history.
‘Too early for birds’ is a cryptic title for a play about war. Not war in the sense of World War 2; but maybe more like an anti-colonial struggle waged at the cultural level against dictatorial power that aimed to crush all political, social and even religious dissent.
Remarkably, the show is largely carried by a single storyteller who also happens to be the scriptwriter and slam-poet who goes by the name of Ngartia. He’s magnetic from the moment he steps on a stage that is vast, but which his spirited performance commands.
Ngartia’s enthusiasm for his story and soulful subject matter is both electrifying and infectious. So much so that it doesn’t take him a tug to draw in his audience to chant along right in time and at his tempo as he makes powerful points and motions his audience to concur, which they joyfully do.
He’s energized by the story of a great man, a living legend and authentic Kenyan hero, Dr. Rev. Timothy Njoya.
The story isn’t a like a boring biographical history of the man. Instead, it zooms in on turning points in our recent past. Specifically, it’s the 1990’s at a time when rumors abound that fellow Kenyans (critics of the government) were either fleeing the country or getting grabbed and detained.
And then, there were the Mothers who confirmed the rumors with their lives. The Mothers of Political Prisoners were passionate about getting their sons out of prisons and detention holes that were said to be torture centre.
The Mothers play an integral part of the true story. So does Nobel prizing-winning Kenyan Professor the late Wangari Maathai. But “Too Early for birds’ focuses on Rev. Njoya who, like Wangari, enduring life-threatening beatings.
Wangari also nearly lost her life at the time standing and marching to the place that has since been christened Freedom Corner. But Rev. Njoya was beaten bloody not just once but several times and he never relented.
His resistance inspired and propelled a movement that eventually was able to bring the dictator down. What was beautiful about the play was also the way the storyteller could morph and become other charters to help dramatize key moments that further served to illustrate how dramatic those moments in Kenya’s recent history really were.
“Too early for birds’ is a show not to be missed. First staged by the wider public (it might have had smaller show-casings) at this year’s Storymoja Festival, we are fortunate both that Ngartia and Abu Sense listened to their fans and brought the show back on stage.
What I also appreciate is that the producers shared the view that getting a video of the show out on YouTube would only enhance, not diminish audience attendance. For instance, I unfortunately could not get to the earlier KNT productions but I did manage to see the show on YouTube. And while I’d have loved for the cameras to zoom in a bit closer occasionally, the cinematography was sufficient to confirm that ‘Too early for Birds’ local theatre lovers need to go and see.