Arts

Irregardless volume II offers a gentle post-election landing

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Irregardless volume II cast. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG

Even if you had seen the first volume of Chatterbox’s July production of ‘Irregardless’, you might have felt (as I did) that it was incumbent upon you to check out volume two of the same show, just to see what sorts of changes JJ Jumbi made between his pre-election and post-election writing.

In the attractive program that he created to share with people who came to his shows, which ran from 23-25 September at Braeburn Theatre Gitanga, he claims he created “an entirely new script”. In one sense that is true.

But on the other hand, the structure of the play is quite similar. He still highlights specific social institutions, like the schools, churches, markets, prisons, and even the High Court as well as specific concepts like corruption and criminality. 

But he seems to delete most references to the issue of class, which were some of the most intriguing and important parts of the play.

But no matter. Only that Jumbi clearly chose to cool down his social commentary, including blatant references to class inequality. Instead, he chose to be more positive and amplify sentiments associated with peace and the promise of a new day with new faces taking the lead politically.

Nonetheless, he hasn’t given up on critiquing politicians as we see in the first act. As in volume one, his show begins in the classroom, only now his youth are more disciplined and less rowdy.

Here we see a more subtle reflection on class in that the Professor tells his students just how ’special’ they are. It’s like a mantra they are meant to repeat and believe as their right to feel special, and even superior.  

The students are there with him to learn the art, guile, and strategic thinking of the smart politician, something they apparently are meant to become one day. The Professor teaches a course he calls ‘political theology’ and the students are there to learn the language and the games that politicians play.

Sounding almost Orwellian, the Prof warns that smart politicians never make ‘promises’. Instead, on the campaign trail, they must stay aspirational and ‘ambiguous. The idea is to never talk oneself into commitments your constituents will expect you to keep. The rest of the play seems to proceed along that line of ambiguity.

For instance, in act two, as in the first edition of Irregardless, we proceed to the church. Once again, we see the churches falling in line with politicians and the flow of money being a major motivator of church leaders. But now the congregants are more subdued.

They’re keen to welcome the Winner, their new leader, a man who might vaguely resemble our own new head of state.

The president is received well, especially musically speaking. The live music is fabulous, filled with many well-known (and original) tunes with their lyrics adapted and revised to ingeniously meet the need for innuendo and levity.  

This politician has promised to clean up politics and dispense with dirty money. He’s promised to sanitize the whole system, which leads us into one of the most memorable sections and songs in the show. It comes when the choir breaks into a song about God being the great Sanitizer.

Meanwhile, the new leader has apparently brought a batch of Hand sanitizer bottles for sale in the church, which is like a sign to signal that the churches are just as unclean as ever. But the song is so sweet. The musical score from this Irregardless needs to be made available for us to purchase!

Meanwhile, before the Winner leaves the church, he wants to hand over the six billion that he’s brought to give since that’s the central message of church leaders like the ones played by Martin Kigondu and his wife, the church’s Mama.

Mother Mary is emphatic about her gratitude for the cars and other gifts and goodies given her and her spouse for serving as conduits for God and His son, Yesu Kristo.

Another marvelous moment in this scene comes as the Leader breaks down in feigned humility and wipes his tears with paper money and then hands the paper cash to locals who happily take it as a bribe.

The rest of Irregardless II takes you from the High Court and the Jail to the local Market and the Mau Mau mzee. But the gist of JJ’s story is clearest for me in the first two acts of his satire.