Caged Bird a morality play set in present-day Nairobi


Frustration turns into a fight between (left) Joan and Alexus (in white) stopped by John (Peter Saisi) at Nairobi Cinema, March 5, 2023. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG

Caged Bird is the title of Mavin Kibicho’s play which was staged last weekend at Nairobi Cinema.

It is also the title of a poem which was also written by Kibicho together with Peter Sani who played the dreamy, unemployed poet in the same script.

Without reading the poem or watching the play, one could easily assume they’re all about liberation and what’s involved in getting free of whatever encumbrance it is, be it joblessness, loneliness, fear, alcohol, or poverty.

In fact, this play presents a virtual laundry list of problems confronting not just a few but many Kenyans today. At the top of the list should have been poverty, but that was never mentioned outright in the play. The vast gap between the lifestyles of Alexus and Joanna speaks volumes about the glaring abyss between the rich and the poor.

Otherwise, the play takes place inside Amy’s (Mitchelle Tayaz) flat where the rent is due and she has no means of paying it.

Nor does her brother John (Peter Saisi) who spends his days reading poetry and pretending to be too busy to help out in the house.

Amy is desperate and the play is full of desperate people who come to Amy’s at her request.

We’re thinking maybe they’ll help out with the rent, but Joanna (Beryl Oundo) is struggling to find a lucrative jua kali (informal sector) job, while Alexus (Naomi Mburuh) is distraught since her boyfriend just walked away.

All three women have their agonies, but Amy’s is most immediate since the landlord is at the door and she can’t afford to let him in for fear of being evicted.

It’s John who observes that all of them are behaving like ‘caged birds’, especially after the landlord has locked the ladies inside Amy’s flat and cut the electricity.

Kibicho has created a play that compounds serious social and psychological problems that are almost too painful to watch.

 The high-pitched tensions between the women come to a volatile boil once Alexus’s bank phones her to say she owes the bank money since someone had obtained her details and made her a guarantor of the culprit’s so-called ‘loan’. As it turns out, it is Joan who was sneaky and seriously desperate enough to take information off of Amy’s phone about her friend Alexus and somehow manipulate the system to obtain the funds it seems she needed.

Once the truth was revealed, Joan explained that her son had been deathly ill and needed medical care.

So, out of desperation she manipulated the system to get what she required.

For Alexus, the Sh5,000 was peanuts in her mind, so that was the least of her problems. Still, I had to wonder how Alexus couldn’t have donated Sh10,000 to Amy which is what she required to pay the rent.

But nobody apparently thought about such a solution.

It was only after Alexus more or less forgave Joan that some other slur from Joan riled Alexus up so much that they went for hand-to-hand combat, stopped only by Amy’s intervention.

 It’s at this point that Amy wakes up from her own agony and asks that the women stop a moment and pray.

It’s from here on out that we see how this play has religious underpinnings. They were bound to come out once the situation went to such extremes that there was no hope other than to seek solace and support from a higher power.

Naturally, from that point on, things began to change. First, it was John who agreed to jump out the one window wide enough for him to slip through and take the plunge.

From there he was able to come around and uplock the front door. After that, there came a call from one of Joan’s clients.

He wanted to forward funds he had owed her. $10,000 was effectively seen as the miracle that was the Higher Power’s response to their prayers.

But if there were any skeptics, agnostics, or atheists in the room (which there definitely were not), they would have complained that the phone call ‘from Afghanistan’ was far-fetched and the solution to one part of their plight was too easy and simplistic.

But Caged Bird was not a play meant for nonbelievers. Nairobi Cinema has been turned into a church hall, and virtually everyone present was a member of the City Lighters Church.

For them, the Caged Bird sent out a clearcut message of hope and peace of mind that was well dramatized.