University students had a field day last weekend when they, as the Hall of Fame Entertainment, not only staged The 5th, an emotive, melodramatic theatre performance by Martin Odongo who also directed the play.
They could not resist including spoken word poetry and Lingala rumba dancers to a self-identified ‘cowgirl’ folk singer with a lovely voice and gigantic guitar.
They also incorporated a lot of choral and solo songs, including Bob Marley’s classic, No woman no Cry which fit in well in the first scene. That is when we learn about the tragic accident of First Lady Martha (acted by Nyambura Mwangi) who has been paralysed for life.
In the opening moments of the play, we learn her daughter Gabriela (acted by Charity Wacheke) is not certain as to whether her mother’s fall was accidental or if she had been pushed by her dad, who is also Head of State, President Bronix McCarthy (acted by Jackson). When we meet Gabriela, this girl is seriously angry, full of vitriol and outrage.
Initially, it is hard to fathom why this girl should be so shrill and melodramatic. Of course, there is the issue of the incessant ‘The 5th’, her father’s VPA, (virtual personal assistant), which drives her crazy. But as the story unfolds, we find that Gabriela’s poor brother Bahati (acted by Blaise Rukungu) has also been mistreated by the dad.
That, of course, is her interpretation of the scene. Her brother (who we eventually learn might be her half-brother) has cancer, the kind that is supposedly best treated in India. But dad is not keen on sending him there and we don’t know why.
In The 5th, theatre lovers are looking at President Bronix on election day when he is not doing well at the polls. So one might forgive him for not having much time for the family.
He is trying to figure out how to salvage the situation and expand voter turnout. But he looks destined to fail, despite having had a successful presidency up until recent times.
On the surface of things, it certainly looks like dad, being a politician, is solely preoccupied with his political future. Gabriela looks correct in charging this man with neglect of his family and prioritising politics over them. But the reality is not so clear-cut.
The play itself is not clear-cut. For one moment, we see mom being a cripple and a tragedy that gets serenaded by one lovely lady who is a member of the chorus and sings in sympathy for the mom. But the next minute, we find mom on her feet in a quarrel with her husband, the president.
Okay, this is called ‘flashback’ but not everyone will understand this sudden turn of events. It is meant to give us insight into the ‘real story’. But equally, it is also mystifying.
There is a Media Man in The 5th named Tobius who comes out of the upstairs bedroom into the story and gives us a clue as to what is happening.
But he is quite extraneous unless he is somehow suggesting we are watching Reality TV, rather like the Kardashians who mesmerised millions and made the family international celebrities.
As it turns out, the president’s story is a good juicy scandal. The First Lady had not been straight with her man. She had a child with his arch-political rival (Lusichi Victor), the one who is running against him on this critical ballot. The baby boy was born years ago and turns out to be Gabriela’s brother, Bahati.
What also had not been clear is that the President had known for some time that the boy wasn’t his blood and that he’d been hoodwinked by his wife. When he found out, we aren’t told. But this explains why he doesn’t feel obligated to fork out funds for the boy’s chemotherapy overseas.
It is a challenge to recognise Gabriela who we meet during the flashback. She’s frivolous and fun-loving, flirtatious, and even disappears into a second-floor bedroom with her boyfriend Denno (Joseph Mukunga), her father’s PA who got replaced by The 5th.
But the story ends without quite knowing what day we are on. The present is where the play began. It was the day of the election. But in the flashback, Bronix blames his wife for aligning her interests with his rival. So perhaps Gabriela was right in the first place. Maybe Martha’s accident wasn’t an accident at all.
Hall of Fame deserves high marks for a fabulous set design and lots of emerging talents who we welcome to the vibrant Nairobi theatre scene.