Nyokabi Macharia might be best known in Nairobi for being Mary Magdelene in Jesus Christ Superstar or for playing Giraffe in Eric Wainaina’s musical, Tinga Tinga Tales or possibly playing Wangu wa Makeri in Too early for birds 5th edition, Brazen.
One role we are not familiar with her in is that of director. But that is easily remedied simply by going to YouTube and looking for her channel. There you will find the premiere performance of The Book and its Cover, dramatised by two of Nairobi’s most illustrious young actresses, Auudi Rowa and Akinyi Oluoch and directed over Zoom by Nyokabi.
Long distance directing was an imperative not just because of the Covid-19 lockdown and social distancing thing. It also had to be because Nyokabi is in the UK, performing with a theatre company there.
When and how she got there is not the issue. What’s more important is that she was inspired to adapt the stage version of Mary Shelley’s stunning novel Frankenstein, after seeing another adaptation of the same on YouTube, having been staged at the National Theatre of London for free during the pandemic. That production stars Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller. (Ironically, both men have played wildly different interpretations of Sherlock Holmes).
Needless to say, Nyokabi wanted to stage a gender-bending version of the story, which she did and which premiered last Friday. She had Auudi play the Dr Frankenstein character and Akinyi play the Monster.
Sadly, this trio of dynamite female actors only staged Act 1 of the tale, at the end of which we were told that the show’s remainder would be staged once they get a producer who will give them both financial and professional support.
In the meantime, Nyokabi’s zooming direction has paid off as it has proved that a top-quality show can premiere with the Kenyan actors giving a passionate and polished performance even though they didn’t have their director in the room with them.
It helped that both women are well-seasoned performing artists who have worked well together in the past. What’s more, all three are so passionate about acting that the energy and intensity required to make this show come alive is evident in abundance, as one will see when you find Nyokabi’s channel and watch on YouTube.
The opening moments of the show are silent (apart from the magnetic mood music) since Victoria is alone until the Monster miraculously appears. Then the complex relationship between the Creator and her monstrous creation rapidly unfolds as we learn the Monster has gone rogue and actually murdered Victoria’s fiancé.
The physical fight scene that ensues between the two women is brilliantly brutal, and it looks like it isn’t going to end well for either one. Remarkably well-choreographed, (especially as director Nyokabi wasn’t physically present for rehearsals), neither woman looks like a push-over. What’s more, the director managed to draw out the emotional depth of both characters, visible first in their knock-down drag-out fight and then in a revealing dialogue that only goes so far, and then stops right when we desperately want to know what will happen next!
What we do know is that what the Monster wants is a companion. She wants Victoria to make her a man! It’s a request that this ‘mad scientist’ initially rejects. But then Victoria suddenly warms up to the idea of creating a ‘perfect man’, but not necessarily for the Monster. Rather there’s a hint that she might want to tailor-make another being for herself!
It’s a fascinating proposition but we won’t find out what comes next until the director finds a worthy producer.
Nyokabi cleverly stopped the show right when the plot thickened and we are keen to find out answers. For instance, can this woman really make the perfect man? Does she dare play the part of a ‘god’? After all, she has already done so once.
Nyokabi has taken us just far enough into the story to whet our appetite for more. Now we can only hope that the internet will serve its purpose and The Book and its Cover will attract the support required to bring us Act 2 of this explosively alluring story as soon as possible.