Sunday, 16 June 2019


[This story was written back in 2013 when Harry Ebale, one of Kenya's finest actors was still alive. And so was Phoenix Players. We miss Harry. We also wish the Phoenix Theatre was still around.  I found this story tucked away in one old google account and didnt want to lose it again. So here it is.]

By Margaretta wa Gacheru (2013)

Phoenix Players have such high regard for the Kenyan playwright John Sibi-Okumu that they reserve a slot for him every year when his latest original play will be staged.
Committed to writing about what he calls the “Kenyan condition”, Sibi has presented a number of his plays at Phoenix, most of which have been received with overwhelming praise, as Role Play and Meetings were.
But others, like Minister Karibu got mixed reviews. I for one liked the show very much, but there were other cultural critics who found flaws in the script, claiming he was stereotyping his political characters in tribal terms.
Either way, Sibi is no stranger to controversy and doesn’t shy away from it, as the public will see from this Friday night when his brand new play, Kaggia, will premiere at Phoenix Theatre.
As Kenyans may recall, Bildad Kaggia was one of the Kapenguria Six, who with Jomo Kenyatta and others was incarcerated for several years. Once released, he joined Kenyatta’s new government, but didn’t stay long since he not only had ideological difference with Kenyatta. He also couldn’t stand what he perceived to be the corruption that he saw in the new government.
Kaggia had played a pivotal role in the Mau Mau anti-colonial war, but he never received the recognition he deserved. Hopefully, Sibi-Okumu’s play will go some distance in rectifying that historical omission.
Harry Ebale (who just finished starring in Accidental Death of a Terrorist at Phoenix) was Sibi’s pick to play Kaggia and Lydiah Gitachu was also the playwright’s choice to play Kaggia’s wife Wambui.
Nick Njache is directing the four-member cast in which two young filmmakers, Stacey (Yriimo Mwaura) and Xan (Bruce Makau), contemplate making a film on the man. And as they do, they take on a multiplicity of roles that should give us a panoramic view of the Mau Mau leader who chose to make large sacrifices in his personal life even as he fought for the liberation of his country from colonial rule.
Kaggia will run from October 31st through November 15th. Already the show is booked to play to several full house crowds so it might be best to get tickets in advance.
Meanwhile, the word got round this past week about two plays that were either extended beyond the original closing date or brought back to the stage by popular demand. Both Accidental Death of a Terrorist and How Dearly I Hate You (both favorably reviewed in Business Daily) closed last Sunday night with each one playing to packed houses, the first at Phoenix, the second at Alliance Francaise.
So anyone who doubts the Kenyan public is increasingly engaged in attending theatrical productions need to think again. Both shows were exceedingly entertaining but at the same time they each had a clear cut social message. Accidental Death examined the threat of police impunity and the need for vigilance while Hate explored gender inequities and one young woman’s resistance to being treated like mindless chattel by the men in her life.
In both cases, one could ignore the socio-political message and just enjoy the hilarity of each play. But if one gave either show a second thought, they’d have to appreciate the humor as well as the subtlety of the scripts staged by Phoenix Players and Heartstrings Kenya.
Finally, Professor Elizabeth Orchardson-Mazrui worked her magic last Saturday at Paa ya Paa Art Centre where she managed to transform a humble book launch into a multifaceted performance featuring story tellers and spoken word poets.
Launching not one but three brand new books, Professor Elizabeth proved again that she’s a prolific writer despite being best known as a fine artist and art lecturer at Kenyatta University.
On hand to formally launch her new play The Lion of Egerton Castle, selected short stories, Seasons of the Jacarandas and collection of her newest poems (which she described as “angry”) called Recriminations, Lamentations, Ululations, were two veteran Kenyan storytellers, Muthoni Likimani and David Maillu.    
Both Muthoni and Maillu had been invited by the Prof. in order to honor their contributions to Kenya’s incipient literary culture. But she also invited a much younger generation of performing artist to dramatize her writings and lift them off the written page and into a vibrant vocal presence.
Actor Jason Otieno, blogger and poet Njeri Wangari and novelist Alexander Nderitu each took turns bringing Elizabeth’s poetry and prose to life. But it was poems like African Woman Repackaged and Dishonorable Honorable Members that most vividly confirmed that Orchardson-Mazrui is one of Kenya’s most important poets of our time.

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