Corruption seems to permeate all facets of Kenyan society, which is why it has become such fertile ground for so many local scriptwriters to dig into and come up with remarkably relevant plays.
The latest one is Millaz Productions’ of Son of Agich which Xavier NATO wrote and calls a comedy. The award-winning producer-director-playwright hesitates to call his script a satire but that’s because the show is indeed amusing from the word go.
NATO also directed the play that Millaz performed last weekend at Alliance Francaise. His pet peeve this time around is the duplicitous state of countless churches that have popped up in Kenya in the past few years.
“When people are desperate, they often turn to religion for solace. But that makes them susceptible to conmen’s trickery,” says NATO a few moments before last Sunday’s matinee.
That’s what’s happens to the people of Chacha village where a man claiming to be God on earth has brainwashed nearly all the villagers who are devastated by the disappearance of the ‘god’ who called himself Agich.
They have already submitted themselves wholly to Agich’s autocratic power. Believing him to be omnipotent, they bowed down to his authority, even to the ‘rule’ that women are not to speak a word when men are around!
But Agich’s henchmen have a problem. The guy just died and they don’t know how to cover-up his absence except to claim he’s ascended and is bound to return after some time.
To their good fortune, three criminals who have just escaped from prison accidentally arrive at Chacha village. They are on the run from the police who are hot on their trail. But then the henchmen have a bright idea:
Why doesn’t one of them become the Son of Agich (Domwell Kidero) and the other two be his guardian angels? In accepting their new roles, the three are able to restore hope in the villagers who are quick to transfer their obeisance to the Son of Agich and his acolytes.
Nato’s genius is in tracing the psychological transformation of the self-proclaimed Son of Agich who is quick to start believing he really is all-powerful.
Dressed like an archbishop with the gown and regal crown to go with his newfound ‘divine right’ to rule, the Son of Agich becomes tyrannical and forgetful that he’s just playing a part.
But his abuse of power doesn’t last long since the police arrive and snag the three. They’d been tipped off after the ‘angel’ called Sando (Emmanuel Chindia) breaks character and professes his loving concern for one of the villagers, Pamela (Fulky Agnes).
She is shocked, but not so much because he begs her to go to hospital to take a test for breast cancer since she’s in pain and Agich had taught that no one’s allowed to go for modern medicine.
She’s more upset that he and the other two are liars who conned them into believing Agich had returned, embodied spiritually in his son. Pamela tells her girlfriend who’s the one who squeals to the police (Ken Aswani), which results in a whole tug of war regarding the criminals’ fate.
It only gets settled after Pamela intervenes and comes to their rescue. Her deconditioning is almost too quick to believe, but it’s also part of the comedic turn. What’s more unbelievable is how easily all the villagers also reverse their loyalties and cope with their new awareness that they’ve been conned all along.
But then, Pamela is in pain and Sando is the only one who seems to care whether she lives or dies.
So Son of Agich isn’t only about the corruption that permeates the churches, turning congregations into zombies who lose their ability to think for themselves. It’s also got a message about breast cancer that’s coincidental with October’s being Breast Cancer month.
Social messaging through theatre isn’t new, and this past weekend we saw it everywhere from Nakuru where Sarafina the musical returned, raising public awareness about the racist horrors of the South African Apartheid system to Nairobi’s Lava Latte cafe where mental health and specifically suicide were addressed in Mugambi Nthige’s performance of Every Brilliant Thing.
But what Xavier NATO does with Millaz Production is also address another key concern about the development of Kenya’s theatre industry.
“With Millaz,” he says, “we’ve aimed to create a platform for young talent coming out of the Schools Drama Festival so they have a place to go after Form Four to continue developing themselves in theatre.”