Watching a play that is not being staged in your mother tongue can be a challenge to anyone who loves theatre and storytelling on stage.
But if you’re sitting with an excellent translator, as I was last Friday night, then a whole other lifestyle can open up as the language is always linked to a different culture, in which language plays a critical part.
But one does not need a translator for every word of a General Theodore production as I found out last Friday night while watching ‘Thua Nguthue’ at the Kenya Cultural Centre. Director Johnson ‘Fish’ Chege ensures that his cast throws their whole bodies into their performances. And by so doing, we the audience, are all the more informed as to what’s happening within each scene.
For instance, one does not need an interpreter to understand that there’s funny business going on when, in the bedroom of an old man known as ‘G’ (Fish Chege), two men (clearly hung over) wake up slowly, followed by a strange woman.
The woman stealthily slips out of the younger man’s bed and into the loo. Dressed in super short shorts, the type meant to lure men after hours, she has cultivated some sort of relationship with the younger man we’ll soon learn is David.
My interpreter fills me in and lets me know, there was meant to be a wedding that day, but the time has passed now. It was meant to be with G’s future son-in-law, David (Tito wa Githomo) and his daughter Maureen (Njoki Maina). But the Bachelor Party, the one usually staged the night before a wedding, went on too long.
The muratina honey beer was too sweet to stop drinking. And the woman who landed in David’s bed left a big question mark on everybody’s head.
To fill them (and us) in on what went on at the wedding site is Kadenge (Humphrey Maina). He arrives in a flurry and never slows down. The epitome of dramatic amusement, he’s the one to tell of Maureen’s fury at both her father and her spouse-to-be. Sh5 million will be wasted unless the scene can be repaired. And that can only be done, if Maureen forgives David and finds out who the mystery woman is.
G (short for General Theodore) works out a plan to reschedule the wedding for early evening the same day, as soon as Kadenge can find a pastor to conduct the wedding service at such short notice and for a fee of Sh60,000.
There’s also the business of reconciling Maureen and Dave. She’s hot and overwrought with rage at being left at the altar and left to be laughed at by the neighbourhood gossip as she is taken to be a fool. But ultimately, his love for her penetrates the protective wall that she’s constructed to prevent herself from feeling any more pain.
They were all set to say ‘I do’ (with Kadenge now serving as Pastor) when the truth was told: The strange woman, called Tatlana (Cereu wa Maina) is David’s wife!
They had done a swift ceremony the night before when Dave was drunk and Tatlana, a busy sex worker, wasn’t going to let go of this big chance to find a way out of the ‘Red Light’ district and into respectability.
But that’s the back story. Otherwise, Tatlana has the last word in the show. It is she who is the wife of David. She got there first.
Kerplunk. The curtain falls. The end.
It’s a rather clumsy ending, with a few loose ends left loose and unresolved. We are meant to recall that at some point during the bachelor party, David picked up Tatlana and took her to G’s place. When she was discovered the following morning, she’d refused to leave, knowing now that she had conjugal rights.
So, Thua Nguthue is yet another cliffhanger, much in the style we frequently see in both Heartstrings and Crony productions. The trick that gives appeal to this format of a show ending is that it’s clear-cut. The challenge of it is finding a line that is possible but not probable. And the more shocking, surprising and unimaginable it can be, the better.
The ending of General Theodore’s play is not unimaginable; but it has been so much fun, with its amusing anecdotal approach to jokes, we were just pleased to watch their latest comedy, and also to have an excellent translator in the process.