Sirano wa Begeraki: Kenyan adaptation of French play hits the mark and then breaks the heart

Sirano ( Acholla Benson), With Roxanne (Nixsha Shah) in Sirano wa Begeraki at Alliance Francaise on September 16, 2023. PHOTO | POOL

Having devised a stunning adaptation of the 19th-century French literary classic, Cyrano de Bergerac, Nairobi Performing Arts Studio (NPAS) together with Alliance Francaise produced this entertaining romantic drama, Sirano wa Begeraki, that had audiences weeping by the story’s end.

It was the French poet, and playwright Edmond Rostand who set the ball rolling, scripting and producing his play in 1897, and publishing it the following year.

Subsequently, there have been several iterations about this romantic military man who was frustrated in love due to his self-consciousness about his physical appearance. For Sirano had a nose nearly as long as Pinocchio.

Yet his peculiar appearance didn’t stop him from excelling in intellect and military prowess. In the original, he was a 17th-century nobleman and skilled swordsman; while in the Anglo-Swahili adaptation, he is a martial artist of black belt calibre and nearly super-hero status.

The Kenyanisation of the English translation of Rostand’s script was devised after cast members read the original work and watched everyone from Steve Martin to Gerald Depardieu play Cyano.

“We took snippets from the films based on the original work and the recent English translation,” the show’s producer-director Stuart Nash told the BD Life.

“Then we put all those ideas together and had Gadwill Odhiambo [who plays Christian in the play] polish them for our Kenyan adaptation,” Nash added.

The original script was set during the reign of Louis XIII, while Sirano is set against the backdrop of war in Somalia against El Shabab.

But the central story belongs to Sirano (Benson Ochungo) who’s in love with Roxanne (Nixshah Shah), his distant cousin and dearest friend. They are so close that she confides in him that she’s in love. He is hopeful that her secret will make his heart sing. Instead, she says she has fallen for the handsome Christian.

Naturally, Sirano is devastated, but he doesn’t let her see his disappointment. Instead, he offers to help bring the two together. That won’t be easy since she is bequeathed to General Digishi (Sam Psenjin) who her father wants to happen.

So to keep her feelings a secret from her family, she asks Sirano to have Christian write her a love letter. Sirano just happens to have one for Christian to use. Not that he wrote it for her, he claims, but for lovers generally.

Roxanne is thrilled with that first letter supposedly from Christian and all the many more love letters Sirano writes on Christian’s behalf.

Unfortunately, once they finally meet, she is so unimpressed by Christian’s monosyllabic professions of love, that she’s inclined to drop the guy altogether but then the letters start flowing again, and once again, she falls for the one who writes the letters, not suspecting they’re from anyone other than Christian.

The story gets ugly once the war against El Shabab hots up and all the Kenyan forces are meant to go into Somalia and finish the terrorists. It’s around this same time that General Digishi discovers Roxanne has a crush on Christian.

The General behaves in a way similar to what David in the Old Testament did when he wanted Bethseba who was already wedded to Uriah.

He sent Uriah to the frontline of battle just as Digishi sent Christian to the war front. As Roxanne had begged Sirano to take care of her Christian while they were away at the war, Sirano went with Christian even though he foresaw that they were walking into a death trap.

There was a double dose of intense climactic moments in this devastating drama. The first was between Christian and Sirano when the pretty boy finally realised that Sirano was in love with Roxanne, so much so that every letter he wrote came straight from his heart. Christian felt betrayed in his naivete and in what he felt was Sirano’s duplicity.


Stuart Nash is an artistic director. FILE PHOTO | POOL

So in the heat of that moment which was heightened by the blazing sounds and sights of war, Christian lept out of the trenches right into a barrage of bullets that must have killed him on the spot.

The second and final climax is back in Roxanne’s hospital where the wounded survivors land. Among them is Sirano who shares Christan’s last letter with her.

That is when she realises it is he who’s written her love letters, not Christian. She’s heartbroken that he hadn’t told her sooner. But now its too late. And this is when there was nary a dry eye at Alliance Francaise.

NPAS had assembled a marvellous cast and crew who performed wonders last weekend.

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Note: The results are not exact but very close to the actual.