‘Matchstick Men’ highlights trauma and healing

Emmanuel Mulili.
Emmanuel Mulili. PHOTO | COURTESY 

Trauma isn’t an easy topic to talk about, especially as it invariably comes from an intensely felt experience.

Martin Kigondu chose to tackle two of the most traumatic times in Kenya’s recent past in his play, Matchstick Men, which Prevail Arts staged last weekend at Kenya Cultural Centre.

Bilal Mwaura and Emmanuel Mulili performed this emotional two-hander at Kenya National Theatre before. But as it was during a cultural festival, it wasn’t the best time to watch a play grappling with how the violent events of 1982 and 2008 impacted the lives of two grown men.

Both Seth and Fadhili are participants in the so-called Matchstick Programme. Coincidentally, they are technically related since Fadhili lived with Seth’s sister Lydia for a time and had a child who is now eight.

Yet despite our not knowing the backstory of the programme until late in the play, we finally learn there’s nothing coincidental about their both being in it. Their therapy sessions were set up by Fadhili to help his brother-in-law confront his demons. They include the “blood, pangas and guns” that refer to Seth’s experience during 2008 post-election violence when he witnessed the bloody murder of his mother and Lydia.


They also include his years growing up with an abusive father who’d been tortured following the 1982 coup attempt to topple the Moi government.

Yet as disturbed as Seth apparently is, Fadhili has his own demons. His relate to losing custody of his child after Lydia and he split up. He wants to adopt his little girl, but her only living relation who can approve the adoption is Seth.

So Fadhili sets up these sessions not simply to help Seth. Bottom line, his motive is to bring back Seth to a semblance of sanity so he can sign adoption papers. It’s a complicated, intensely personal plot that required heart-felt performance by both actors. This is what they both gave.

The irony is that Fadhili seems more unstable than Seth who’d been so psychologically wounded that he’d buried his pain deep within his psyche.

It takes this final session with Fadhili to bring him back sufficiently to his senses so he can sign.