Kenyan women playwrights steal the spotlight

Massive cover-up in Heartstrings’ It wasn’t
Massive cover-up in Heartstrings’ It wasn’t me’. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU  

As the playwright, producer and director of Puma, the monumental production that just premiered last Tuesday night at Kenya National Theatre, Mkawasi Mcharo-Hall could have staged her latest masterpiece in the US where she’s been living and working in theatre for more than a decade.

But as Puma is all about Kenya today, she felt compelled to bring her play home to first get feedback from fellow Kenyans.

Puma is a work that she hesitates to call a musical even though it has song and dance neatly interwoven into the script. But whatever it’s called, Puma is brilliantly structured around two divergent themes: one is the mean-spirited treatment of unwanted children, the other the traumatisation of internally displaced persons (IDPs).

Additionally, there are several intriguing sub-plots, all of which relate directly to the life experience of many ordinary Kenyans. A full review of Puma will come next week.

Meanwhile, Alliance Francaise was overwhelmed last weekend with theatre-goers coming to see two light-hearted comedies, Heartstrings in the Tented Garden where Sammy Mwangi staged It wasn’t me and Festival of Creative Arts (FCA) in the auditorium in Silly Love.


Both shows were ‘silly’, however, FCA’s specialty is sheer frivolity, taking the true meaning of silliness as ‘ridiculous’ and ‘not serious’ to the hilt. Once again, it’s a slapstick comedy about spouse-swapping where neither couple knows the other one is sneaking out with their best friend’s spouse.

It had an outstanding cast with Maina Olwenya, Rosemary Waweru, May Wairimu and Robert Agengo and Bilal Ng’ang’a playing the all-seeing spouse who for ‘some reason’ isn’t bothered by his wife’s philandering.

The best comedic element is the play — whose playwright we are never told by FCA — is the lumbering plumber-landlord (Andrew Muthure) who always shows up at the most inopportune moments, but he seems to have seen it all, so he simply goes about his business, non-judgmental but not missing a trick.

Heartstrings’ production of It wasn’t me was also ‘silly’ but it had much more depth and even subtle political undercurrents which, even if not seen by those who simply go to Heartstrings’ shows to laugh at their delirious antics, are plain to politically-minded Kenyans.

The thing about Heartstrings is that they dare to be topical and trendy, picking up on issues alive on both social and mainstream media.

But they devise their productions to make oblique reference to issues often uppermost in Kenyans’ minds — like corruption, deceit, cover-ups of wrong-doing and even the public’s complicity in crime simply as a result of their turning a blind eye to criminality if and when it’s inconvenient to report or when it’s known that little follow-up will ensue even when security forces are called.

In the case of It wasn’t me, the hilarity has to do with the absurd premise that a man who’d called friends to his home for a party had simultaneously tried to commit suicide.

He survives but as his lawyer arrives for the party first, he launches the cover-up claiming it’s a crime for one to try suicide. So as each couple arrives, they are initially lied to by the lawyer and his ditzy wife until they figure out something’s fishy. Then, when they find out about their host and the lawyer’s concern, they join the cover-up.

It wasn’t me seems to be the refrain we hear every day from most politicians in power, especially from one woman Cabinet secretary, but she’s only mentioned once in the show. That’s at the outset when the stand-up comedian sets the tone for the show and we hear the name of the one most frequently saying ‘it wasn’t her’ who swiped millions meant for public services.

Finally, one of Kenya’s best-known poetess-performers, Sitawa Namwalie is currently in the process of producing her own epic poem, A Room of Lost Names which she’s transformed into a play soon to premiere in Uganda at the Kampala International Theatre Festival.

The only Kenyan script selected to be staged alongside plays coming from Mexico, Serbia and points beyond, A Room of Lost Names is being directed by Nyambura Waruingi and stars Mkamzee Mwatela, Nick Ndeda and Mugambi Nthiga, among others.

It’s an amazing script that combines Luhya oral tradition with Sitawa’s epic poetry shaped in a way that makes A Room of Lost Names a stunning murder mystery that we want to see staged in Kenya as soon as possible.