David Mulwa wrote ‘Redemption’ for NCCK back in 1989. We haven’t seen it staged since, until last week at Kenya Cultural Centre when Kenyatta University students performed a version of it under the direction of Emmanuel Shikuku.
By honouring one of Kenya’s greatest playwright in this way, Dr Shikuku and his lively cast were also paying tribute to one of the country’s greatest actors and KU professors.
The play itself was considered quite radical at the time as Mulwa dared to expose the corruption, contradictions and petty conflicts afflicting the church. And while the institution doesn’t play as dominant a social role as it did back then, the story itself is beautifully crafted. It revolves around three church leaders, one the old ‘fire-and-brimstone’ model (Mark Maina) who’s being cast aside for a younger, more empathetic model, Martin (Carl Gordon Mbaje) and the third a cunny conman, Archbishop (AB) Muthemba (Brian Otieno) who’s built his church with foreign funding and deceit.
The two older clerics have offspring whose Romeo-Juliet styled courting gets soured by the Archbishop’s son taking advantage of the innocent Rebecca (Annita Nabakka). The irony is that the AB also impregnated a young woman, Millicent who was innocent and already engaged to a good man, Kitaka (Dancan Jalang’a) who turned into the town drunk, once his girl ends up marrying the con.
To complicate matters more, AB is busy swindling land from his flock, including Kitaka who’s persuaded by Pastor Martin not to sell it. Coincidentally, because he’s treated compassionately by Martin, Kitaka sobers up and the tide turns. AB gets nabbed for larceny, ‘Romeo and Juliet’ make up and even Millie and Kitaka’s future looks promising.
It’s a brilliant drama, but there were a few flaws in its execution. For one, the story should have been cut as it ran over three hours. The opening scene could have been cut, also the melodrama of Rebecca’s dad whose self-pity was too much.