It’s been more than a decade since we saw veteran thespians like Tonny Njuguna, Robert Agengo and Victor Ber on stage in Nairobi. A whole generation of actors and directors disappeared from the theatre when opportunities in TV and film opened up.
It took the magic of TV producer Mary Migui to bring these veterans plus several others (including some who never abandoned theatre, like Ben Tekee and Ciku Mburu) back to the stage to help her produce the Ray Cooney classic, It Runs in the Family.
It was an odd choice since most Kenyan thespians have moved beyond ‘being British’ or staging West End hits. It’s true however, that Ray Cooney’s comedy has frequently been staged locally. We’ve seen it done by everyone from Aperture Africa to Aga Khan Academy.
Nonetheless, it was a treat seeing Tonny Njuguna star as Dr Mortimer, the second-tier neurosurgeon given the task by his boss, Dr Drake (Ben Tekee) to deliver the keynote address to an annual medics’ conference.
With mere minutes before he’s meant to give his speech, Mortimer’s busy cramming his lines when an old girlfriend, Nurse Tate (Ivy Esther) arrives, claiming he’s got an 18-year-old son who’s waiting to meet him, accompanied by a cop.
The fiasco is heightened by Mortimer’s crazy attempts to cover up his ‘crime’ of infidelity and escape both Jane and the boy. Lies pile on lies as he enlists his friend, Dr Hubert (Obilo Ng’ong’o) to help him deceive everyone from his wife (Ciku Mburu) to his boss to the police Sergeant (Robert Agengo) and the Matron (Angelia Nancie) who nearly blows his cover wide open.
It all gets sorted out in the end. Dr Hubert, who’s still a bachelor, agrees to save the day by pretending he fathered the lad Lesley (Sam Kihiu). The teenager’s delighted and so is Hubert’s mom (Brenda Ngeso).
Even Dr Drake is pleased that Mortimer never gave the speech since he gave it for him and enjoyed doing it. Mortimer’s wife Rosemary is also happy in the end although she admits to her spouse, she’s always known about Nurse Tate and his other affairs, but she’s been okay living with the status quo.
Cooney’s comedies are formulaic but fun. And because last weekend’s shows were cancelled due to the census, the play will be restaged this weekend at Alliance Francaise. For laughs, it’s good to go.