Month-long musical strikes the right chord with theatre lovers

Tortoise (elsapan njora) and Elephant (ray) in
Tortoise (elsapan njora) and Elephant (ray) in Tinga Tinga tales. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WAGACHERU | NMG 

The Tinga Tinga Tales, a musical running at the Kenya National Theatre for the whole month of September, ends the third week on a high note.

The plot revolves around every character in this star-studded show draws from African folktales to explain natural phenomena, for instance, why the chameleon camouflages itself in the environment and the giraffe has a long neck.

The play targets children and it was a treat listening to them laugh, for instance, at Chameleon’s inability to sing on cue. For me, they became part of the performance. I enjoyed the mingling of the audience and the performers.

For instance, in a rainfall scene, the performers have umbrellas, but Monkey (Eric Wainaina) gives the audience the responsibility of producing the sound of pattering rain.

The children are awed by the eventual sound from different sections tapping, rubbing and patting their hands.

What Tinga Tinga Tales can most boast about is its great quality of music. With a band under the leadership of Victor Kimetto and a cast comprising Atemi Oyungu, Karimi Wamai, Nyokabi Macharia, Kendi Nkonge, Eddy Kimani and Tetu Shani, the music, which Wainaina composed and directed was brilliant.

Expectedly, costumes are a really important part of a musical about animals and targeted at children who can easily lose a plot. It was impressive that by innovating with costumes and props, the animal characters are believable and, for instance, the giraffe’s neck actually grows longer.

For me, the mishmash of foreign elements in the story such as characters with a Jamaican or an African American accent and the translation of every Swahili phrase was a slightly bizarre look for Kenyan performers telling African folktales. On the flip side, exposure to foreign cultures enriches children’s worldviews.

It would have been interesting to see a version of the story that targeted both adults and children, borrowing from the trend of productions, such as Frozen. Considering the response from grownups around me, however, Tinga Tinga matched these productions in its ability to evoke the child in them.

I connected the most with Chameleon’s (Alvan Gatitu) grumpy humour.

Only a few people responded by saying ‘woiye’ when he said, “I am dull, grey, boring and useless. I’m not good at Tinga Tinga tricks. I’m not good at anything.”

Chameleon stopped on his way off the stage to beckon more people to join in pitying him. I was with him.