Heartstrings Entertainment is known for being one of the best comedy theatre groups in Kenya.
The troupe, headed by Sammy Mwangi, is also one of our most consistent ensembles of character actors around. They’re also specialists in sticking a slew of clever social comments inside a large loaf of laughter and physical comedy.
But Snake in the Grass, Heartstrings’ most recent production at Alliance Francaise, didn’t quite measure up to the high standard that we’ve come to expect from Sammy and company.
One suspects it’s because they’re trying to maintain a high-velocity momentum of performance that hasn’t given them enough time to rest on their laurels for a moment or two.
No doubt, Heartstrings is one, if not the most hard-working theatre company in Kenya currently. But one feels in the case of Snake in the Grass, they hadn’t given the script sufficient time to settle into a smooth storyline that made a whole lot of sense.
I’m inclined to think the story was about a smart young woman named Bethsaida (Cindy Kahuha) who’s invited several long-time friends, including Kanyita, a former classmate (Nick Kwach), Paul, a former workmate (Paul Ogola), a neighbour (Cyprian Osoro) and a girlfriend (Zeituni Salat) over to her place to celebrate her birthday.
I initially thought Heartstrings had meant to make a statement about the strength and independence of the young Kenyan millennial female. It would have been just in time for all of us to celebrate International Women’s Day on Thursday along with Beth.
But then, something went wrong. This free-spirited girl, who’d never gotten trapped or tricked by any guy, either on campus or on the job, has a major mishap with the stranger, Protus (Victor Nyaata) who arrives at the party unannounced and uninvited. He’s apparently the neighbour’s nephew, but he spells trouble. He’s the guy who grabs her after she’s had one too many to drink.
I liked the way the story began, with Beth fiercely claiming her home territory after this stranger (call him the ‘snake in the grass’) Protus appears to move in and claim her space as his own.
The rest of the show takes the shape of a flashback, revealing how the party gradually got underway with each guest adding on another high-hearted layer, up until Protus arrives unexpectedly.
Looking sheepish and simple, Victor is apparently part of a larger plot to finally bring our girl ‘down’. This is confirmed during the scene where the guys ask the girls to leave them alone briefly so they can have a heart-to-heart chat.
That’s when the guys show their true scheming colours and gleefully get filled in by Protus on the night’s conquest of the birthday girl.
Perhaps Snake in the Grass is meant to be a cautionary tale for women, especially as it shows how vulnerable even the smartest woman can be once she lets her guard down for a moment.
Ultimately, all I saw was a tale about the treachery of men and the naiveté of the woman. I believe Heartstrings can do better than this.
On a brighter note, this coming Thursday night at The Alchemist, Maimouna Jallow’s Positively African company will present A Night of Tales featuring the Zamaleo Storytellers doing Fumo Liyongo followed by the stellar Scottish-Kenyan storyteller Mara Menzies performing three enchanting tales under the umbrella of The Illusion of Truth.
Mara and Maimouna are both beautiful performing artists. But on Thursday, Maimouna (who’s busy polishing her anthology of Reimagined African Folktales) will produce the evening’s programme while Mara will tell spell-binding stories, one from Scotland, one from Kenya and one from Nigeria.
Mara, who grew up at the Coast but is now based in Scotland, has performed in Kenya before, at Storymoja Festivals. She’s also performed in many other storytelling festivals, touring everywhere from Scotland, Sri Lanka and Singapore to the United Arab Emirates, the US, Jamaica, and all over the UK.
It was just last year that Maimouna and Mara met beyond the Internet. It was initially last July when both performed at the Africa Writes Festival in London, then in October at Edinburgh’s Scottish International Storytelling Festival and finally, last November at the Ake Festival in Nigeria.
Mara’s Illusion of Truth tales are perfectly timed to be a precursor to the upcoming World Storytelling Day on March 20 when the Day’s theme will be Wise Fools.
Finally, Mbeki Mwalimu recently formed her own theatre troupe ‘Back to Basics’. In early April, they will stage Strangers by Blood scripted by Justin MIrichii and Mbeki.