Francis Karanja is yet another rising star on the Kenyan theatre scene.
The founder-producer of Khwevia Entertainment, he and his hand-picked cast and crew just premiered in ‘Kiri’, a script which Karanja also wrote.
It was staged last weekend at Braeburn Theatre Gitanga Road.
Karanja caught the theatre ‘bug’ so seriously that he not only wrote Kiri. He tried to make it into a musical, or what he calls a play with song and dance.
There’s a lot of that in the production, some of it timely and relevant, some of it incongruous and ill-placed as when Brian (Riki Gathariki) is about to be shot and a couple, dressed in white, start dancing as if they are celebrating this unfortunate moment.
Nonetheless, when dancers initiate the show, one sees excellent choreography and agile, uplifting artists who generate a spirit that ironically seems hopeful and promising.
Yet Kiri is a play about bad guys and super-bad guys. Some are corrupt to the core. Others are fighting corruption, nonetheless, they too are bad guys.
The police clearly get a bad rap in Kiri. But then, the audience seemed to appreciate that sentiment on opening night as the curtain came down on Khwevi’s first major production since the COVID crackdown curtailed people attending theatre shows, leave alone visiting public spaces at all.
One other thing that Karanja had a handle on in Kiri is the set design which is well done.
All the way across the stage and from floor to ceiling was a backdrop that was attractive and definitely urban.
The cast made seamless shifts from one scene to the next. But the one thing Karanja neglected was the lighting which was too red too much of the time.
And in the area of theatricals, Khwevia fell down on audibility. As none of the cast was mic-ed, and the Braeburn stage is vast and deep, it was occasionally difficult to hear cast members’ words.
And the band, though discreet and sensitive to its not overwhelming performance with too loud a sound, still couldn’t help contributing to the problem.
Consequently, some important moments in the play had to be presumed rather than clearly understood.
Yet the basic storyline was clear from the first moments of the play. Pickpockets and fast-fingered wig removers are seen, illustrating how easy it can be for a quick-moving hustler to rob you of your essentials if you are never on the alert.
But the pickpockets only hint at what Kiri is about. Instantly, we are transported to a crime scene, a bank heist in the process of happening.
The element of surprise works on the crooks’ behalf. They, with their guns in hand, manage to intimidate the customers and bank boss so effectively that they snatch the cash, and escape in haste.
We quickly realize there are just two of them, Brian, who’s got a marvellous singing voice, and his girlfriend, Kare (Foi Wambui).
They are co-criminals and bank robbers who tell the mystery man, Kiri, when he arrives at their hide-out that they want to continue robbing even bigger banks.
They’re thinking it’s easy to do, but Kiri has come to warn them to lay low for a while since the bank robbery is being seriously investigated.
It's not clear at this time that Kiri is the mastermind of a criminal system that has strict rules of operation which apparently, have served him and his fellow thieves very well.
But discretion and discipline are rules in his criminal world.
Brian is the opposite of that. He continues to plan his next move. Meanwhile, Kiri has a visitor, the first of several crooked cops.
It’s Mr Brown and he’s the one who alerts Kiri to beware, as police are determined to find the robbers. He adds that a new set of cops are coming soon. Their takeover of the community comes in act two.
The new cops are not necessarily less corrupt than Mr Brown, but they are certainly more ruthless.
Their leader, Shaw (Allan Kariuki), is a blood-thirsty guy who’s prepared to bump off anybody challenging the cops or waging a protest. That means Brian is a dead man, which doesn’t need to be the case. But impunity rules among these cops.
Ultimately, the war plays out between the bad and the super-bad cop, and the conclusion is a surprise.
But in Kiri, nobody is redeemed. Nobody turns from bad to good, which apparently is also the sad reality in Kenya today.