2023 theatre preview: Year shapes up to be the best yet for productions

Marrianne Nungo (left) and Helena Waithera in 'Blessed be the Fruit' will return to Kenya Cultural Centre in 2023. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG

This past year must have broken records for the number of productions staged in a 52-week period when there were two and occasionally three shows happening the same weekend.

This year is also shaping up to bring lots of good, and possibly great productions to the stage. There are several shows that will be repeats of what we watched in 2022. But they will be coming mostly due to popular demand.

They include shows like Prevail Arts’ Blessed be the Fruit, Sitawa Namwalie’s Taking my Father Home, and possibly even How to Have an Affair: A Cheater’s Guide’ which made many chuckle at this salacious satire.

We have the second edition of the Kenya Theatre Awards (KTA)coming on February 24th at Kenya National Theatre. The first KTA went over well, and many companies were energised at the thought of possibly gaining the recognition the awards would bring.

There are some groups, like Hearts of Art (HoA) that have already mapped out the year with shows specified. HoA plans to stage four shows already.

They include Pieces of a Woman directed by Caroline Odongo in March; Stars from Exit Wounds directed by Gilbert Lukalia.

Then, HoA founder Walter Sitati will direct Son of Smoke, and finally, the long-awaited Wangari Maathai, the Musical will be directed by Lukalia!

All this is amazing not just because it has been so carefully thought through but because Sitati has been out of the country studying for many months, and still has managed to stay in touch with his company. That’s dedication.

In that regard, HoA is not alone. Many theatre companies are peopled by a faithful crew of thespians who love what they do.

For instance, a group like Youth Theatre Kenya are dedicated to their team and will focus this year, says Jazz Moll, on conducting workshops and training, even as they plan to collaborate with Dance Centre Kenya on a show Jazz wants to reveal later this year.

What is also important is the leadership of these companies. Like Prevail Arts has Martin Kigondu who says they will bring back Supernova and Blessed be the Fruit even as he plans to be working with Nairobi Performing Arts Studio to act in Betrayal in the City which a number of outstanding Kenyan actors plan to perform in as well.

NPAS’s Stuart Nash says Betrayal is just one of the major productions he hopes to stage this year. He also plans to produce Nairobi Half-Life, and is even thinking seriously about staging Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s other controversial musical Mother, Sing for Me or Maitu Njugira.

The Island with Emmanuel Shikuku (left) and Sam Onyango will be at Kenya National Theatre January 14-15, 2023. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG

Ngugi has already expressed his appreciation of the thought of finally, after 40 years, getting that play staged, as it was stopped from opening just minutes before the full cast was prepared to premiere the show in 1982.

But it was not to be, and shortly thereafter, Ngugi was advised not to return from a short trip overseas as there were sinister plans afoot to do him harm. So we’ll see if 2023 is the year when Mother, Sing for Me finally gets her premiere.

Meanwhile, companies like Chatterbox, Journals of Orina, Liquid Arts, and Festival of the Creative Arts (FCA) are all planning to stage new shows this year. FCA has been quiet for years, so it will be interesting to see how the company has morphed.

Their first production will be a Kikuyu play directed by Johnson ‘Fish’ Chege. Orina will be performing in his Conversation with God and Liquid’s first show in February will be Kemia by Kelvin Manda and directed by Peter Tosh.

Heartstrings and Crony Players are both planning to bring more original comedies.

Esther Kahuhi, who has come back to Heartstrings after years, is also likely to bring us more of her Man-Made Woman, revealing her adrenaline-charged run-on wit and charm.

The other one-woman show that we will see in 2023 is Dr Zippy Okoth’s Mama’s Mirror which she will stage in late March. Sitawa’s Silence is a Woman is another wake-up call to pay attention to womanly wisdom.

Two major woman-directed musicals will be Sitawa’s Escape which is brand new and Kristen’s Tuck Everlasting which is coming April 20-22 at Rosslyn Academy.

Finally, Chemi Chemi players will also be extra busy this year with Pirate in March, Every Brilliant Thin’ with Mugambi Nthiga, directed by Julisa Rowe in May, and musicals in August and December.

They will also collaborate with a Danish company to stage For Coloured Girls who considered Suicide.

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