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Art

Fabulous weekend for drama

From left: Bilal Wanjau as Winston Churchill Matumbato with sidekick Ibrahim Muchemi, and politicians, Ben Tekee, Beatrice Kimunya, Benson Ochungo and Victor Gatonye in ‘Minister Karibu’, a play by John Sibi Okumu. PHOTOS | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU
From left: Bilal Wanjau as Winston Churchill Matumbato with sidekick Ibrahim Muchemi, and politicians, Ben Tekee, Beatrice Kimunya, Benson Ochungo and Victor Gatonye in ‘Minister Karibu’, a play by John Sibi Okumu. PHOTOS | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU 

Minister Karibu, staged last weekend at Kenya National Theatre proved to be just as relevant today as it was eight years ago when John Sibi Okumu wrote it and saw it produced by Phoenix Players prior to the 2013 election.

In fact, during a Q&A session following the second performance of Minister Karibu on Sunday, the consensus was that the script was even more relevant now.

In part, this is due to Sibi’s prophetic vision which directly addressed issues of corruption and other social ills still plaguing Kenyans, like tribalism, sexism, nepotism and ‘land-grabbism’, a term used by the ‘black Englishman’ Jamhuri Katana (Ben Tekee).

What’s more, Sibi’s chosen genre of satire is one that rarely grows stale. This the writer implied as he confessed he’d drawn inspiration from the work of previous satirists like Gogol, Moliere and even Shakespeare, all of whose plays are classics, still staged today.

But the other reason the play has withstood the test of time is the director, Tash Mitumba, who Sibi said had adapted aspects of his script, like the music and social trends like selfies, which Winston Churchill Matumbato’s (Bilal Wanjau) youthful sidekick Hippo Dudi (Ibrahim Muchemi) takes with his phone while the two are busy hoodwinking the self-serving politicians.

But beyond relevance, what drew me back to see Minister Karibu a second time last weekend (or rather a third time since I’d seen it once before when it was staged at Phoenix, co-directed by George Mungai and Nick Njache) was the depth of the message.

In fact, on Saturday night, I was totally charmed by the comic genius of Sibi’s caricatures: the two media men (Peter Orinda and Kevin Kasyuki), flaming feminist Ph.D (Beatrice Kimuya), pedant professor turned pol (Benson Ochungo), black Briton (Big Ben), money-minded hotelier mama (Susan Kavathe) and her fake Maasai watchman (Mark Okoth), all elicited large laughs, to the point of distraction.

So I had to go back Sunday to ensure I got the deeper implications of the story itself. First and foremost, Sibi’s play is all about corruption. But it’s not only the politicians who are corrupt. All of his characters (apart from the media men whom he parodies, but who at least are clean) are tainted with short-term self-interests. Even the Mama Toto whose greed for cash blind-sides her when Matumbato makes off with everybody’s cash and carry-ables.

Sibi’s got more sympathy for the workers since they play-act as a means of surviving these tough financial times. But all the politicians who come to the conference called by Matumbato are there in the hope they’ll cash in on the master politician’s substantial account. It reminds one of some of our current politicians who want lunch with the Big Man.

During a second Q&A, Sibi confirmed that the show’s ending (which I won’t spoil by describing) was meant to symbolise what could happen to Kenya if it stays the course of corruption and disregards the interests of the country’s future.

On a final note, I must say Tash Mitambo’s directing was superb. The acting was also first class and even the set design was economical and maximised the mini-stage at KNT’s annex. We also congratulate Aroji Drama Academy for producing Minister Karibu and promising to bring theatre or film to the stage every month this year. May they fulfill that promise!

Meanwhile, Hearts of Art are premiering in Walter Sitati’s intense political thriller, Repair my Heart tonight and Saturday at PAWA 254, starring Peter Kawa and Ellsey Adhiambo.

Today is also your last chance to see Aga Khan Academy stage the Ray Cooney comedy It Runs in the Family at 2pm and 8pm at Louis Leakey Auditorium.

Then Saturday and twice on Sunday, the Dance Centre Kenya’s elite Ballet Company is performing in Prokofiev’s enchanting fairy tale, Cinderella at Kenya National Theatre.

The two principles in the 65 member cast are Tara Brmbota as Cinderella and Lawrence Ogina playing the Prince. DCK’s own artistic director Cooper Rust will return to the KNT stage performing the role of Cinderella’s wicked stepmother. Her two nasty step-sisters will be played by Kayla Hotz and Stella Eising so it’s sure to be a glorious performance.

Finally, next Tuesday, March 27, the World Theatre Day will be celebrated at the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development.

Organised by Mabingwa Theatre Productions, the celebrations will run from 8am through 5pm with Kenya Film Classification Board CEO Ezekiel Mutua as the guest speaker.

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