Still basking in the afterglow of last week’s Kenya Theatre Awards (KTA), it is a joy to see that 2022’s year of the great theatre was not just a fluke.
Certainly, the overwhelming numbers of productions in 2022 had something to do with the lifting of Covid constraints and the bursting forth of artists’ pent-up energies.
But as of this weekend, we are already seeing a continuity in quality productions with three and possibly four major shows taking place and two having already premiered last night.
First, there is the award-winning Nairobi Performing Arts Studio (NPAS) staging Francis Imbuga’s classic drama, Betrayal in the City at Kenya National Theatre (KNT).
Having a star-studded cast, the show features KTA winners Bilal Mwaura, Wakio Mzenge, and Martin Kigondu, as well as Raymond Ofula (who hasn’t been on the KNT stage in 25 years, having shifted long ago to TV and film) as Boss.
Betrayal is, for NPAS, the second in a series of classic Kenyan plays, the first being Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s and Ngugi wa Miiri’s I’ll Marry When I Want (Ngaahika Ndeenda) which won Best Production of 2022.
The third one is rumoured to be Ngugi’s Mother, Sing for Me which got censored by the Kenya Government just moments before it was to premiere nearly 40 years ago.
So, it will finally get its international premiere later this year when it is staged by NPAS.
Meanwhile, across the street from KNT, the group voted Best Theatre Company of 2022 also premiered in Give and Take at Alliance Francaise.
Sammy Mwangi’s Heartstrings Entertainment maintains its dynamic momentum bringing out new comedies every month and continuing to perform to full-house crowds.
Meanwhile, on Friday night at the Oshwal Junior High Auditorium, Aperture Africa is producing its first Puppet Show entitled The Good, the Bad, and the Wolf.
In a show that promises to shatter all stereotypical views of puppets, the Polish puppeteer Kasia Meszaros has trained a team of local actors, including Bilal Wanjau and members of the Kenya Institute of Puppetry in modern techniques of the performing art.
She has even brought on board the master craftsman who creates the XYZ puppets, Fedelis Kyalo.
All three productions will be running through the weekend. It is only Mavin Kibicho’s Caged Bird, being staged at Nairobi Cinema that is offering just one performance on Sunday afternoon.
In any case, that makes four public performances in a single weekend. Last weekend, there were also shows in Kikuyu, Kisii, and Dhuluo.
There are also private performances in exclusive settings that we only hear about. The theatre flame has been lit and was aglow last weekend when the KTA identified 37 categories of performance that merited esteem, recognition, and even a trophy.
The public’s response that night was as overwhelming as many of the productions were during the year. Many an artist that night expressed appreciation to the award organisers (namely the KITFest Trust, KTA secretariat and judges) for their initiative.
“Never in all my years in theatre have I received recognition like this,” said Charles Ouda who won Best Performance of a Male Actor in a Monologue.
Ouda’s monologue was one in a series entitled The Manic Monologues. His female counterpart in the same show, Wakio Nzenge also won Best Performance of a Female Actor in a Monologue and was equally deserving and appreciative.
Ouda also won with Nice Githinji for their performance in a two-hander, How to Have an Affair: A Cheater’s Guide. Theirs was a category that was new this year since there were so many shows having just two cast members, and the KTA team chose to add it to their awards roster.
The other new award was for Stage Manager which went overwhelmingly to Mercy Wangui for her management of Ngugis’ I’ll Marry.
The Lifetime Achievement Award went to Annabel Maule who just turned 100 so her trophy was received by Philip Coulson, who is an actor (and prominent lawyer) in his own right.
But it was the Ushirika Award which went to an entity entitled Creative Arts Spaces in Kenya that I found most noteworthy.
In fact, behind the name is the French Embassy which funded the refurbishing of theatrical infrastructures in five locations in Kenya, Nairobi, Nakuru, Kisumu, Mombasa, and Lamu. It was an exceptional gift to the Kenyan theatre community and merits our applause.
Without a doubt, theatre is on the rise in Kenya and we have high expectations for 2023.