Using humour and art to make Kenyans change

Free loaders take advantage of Filbert
Free loaders take advantage of Filbert (Nick Kwach in dress jacket) in Shadow of Doubt. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG 

Shadow of doubt is a typical title for Heartstrings Players. It gives nothing of the plot away. But who cares. It is the content and the quality of ensemble performance that makes this ever-popular Nairobi theatre troupe the very best at what they do.

And that is combining satire and social reality with an undercurrent of moral insight and critique of what Kenyans do to one another, for better or worse.

In this two act comedy, act one is set in a well-equipped local gym where friends (mostly couples) meet, work weights and chat about the current obsession with fitness and hitting the gym. Then the (apparently gay) aerobics instructor (Paul Ogola) struts in and the room energy instantaneously hots up as the exercises are fast and furious. But as he dashes around the room touching everyone (ostensibly to correct people’s form), Toto (Victor Nyaata) finds the physicality offensive.

It is a hilarious scene, but on a serious note, nearly all in the room are married couples apart for Filbert (Nick Kwach) and Maureen (...). They have been together 10 years, but he’ is in “no hurry”. Her feelings are only revealed in act two.

That is at Filbert’s home, but the transition is not quite clear since some characters (like Cyprian Osoro) are double cast. But we quickly see that the house is full of free-loaders taking advantage of Filbert who’s got a well-paying job and no wife to complain about the excessive demands and impositions upon this kind, generous man.

There is the old uncle, the homeless workmate and the nephew who takes, eats or breaks everything of value in the house. Then there is the shockingly demanding church woman who’s not only moved her church into his house. She thinks nothing of asking for heaps of cash, apparently in the name of God!

It’s only when Maureen finally puts her foot down and insists Filbert look at how he is dangled her affections for a decade while being exploited by all these takers. Fed up, she finally asks him to marry her. When he refuses but insists he wants only her, she sees he must choose between them or her. It is a story salaried Kenyans struggle with constantly. Ultimately it’s the houseman (Paul Ogola) who lectures Filbert on how Kenyans like him need to stand up and stop deferring to corrupt grabbers. They must know themselves and he should marry Maureen.