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Art

Who got hit below the belt in Heartstrings’ new play?

Monica (left) abuse the barmaid in Heartstrings’ ‘Below the Belt’. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG
Monica (left) abuse the barmaid in Heartstrings’ ‘Below the Belt’. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG 

The title, Below the Belt begs the question: who is hitting and who is getting hit?

In Heartstrings Kenya’s latest production of the comedy Below the Belt, everyone seems to be hitting or getting hit.

The story is about present-day relationships in Nairobi and young peoples’ view of them.

Set in a club, it starts with two young single women (Adeline Nimo as Monica and Gindie Kahuha as Sandra) gossiping and fussing about boys, other girls and the poor quality of service in the club.

Both have had recent break-ups, but only Sandra seems open to starting over afresh, especially if the guy is a doctor like Charles (Victor Nyaata) claims friend Benson (Nick Quach) is.

Yet Ben is just a humble hospital orderly who’s heartbroken as he’s been hit ‘‘below the belt’’ by his wife Flora who walked out on their marriage a while back for no apparent reason.

Ben’s friend Charlie has brought him to the club apparently to coax his pal out of his doldrums. Charlie tries all manner of tricks, including singing karaoke style (he calls it ‘Kariuki’) and getting Ben to dance with Sandra who’s keen to catch a professional man.

It turns out Charlie seems to have also been hitting below Ben’s belt because he’s secretly got the hots for Flora. We’re left wondering at the show’s end whether Charlie’s motive all along was to get Ben involved with another woman so that he can proceed with Flora!

But Charlie doesn’t get off Scot-free. When he tries to get it on with Monica, this frosty woman informs the club staff that he’s indecently dressed in the store room as she’d promised to meet him there.

In effect, she too hits him below the belt. But Charlie also manages to hit Monica back by borrowing cash from her ex-boyfriend just as she’s been trying to make her ‘ex’ jealous by letting him see her dancing and having fun with another man.

But then, that other man happens to be the same guy who goes and borrows money from Mr ‘ex’, showing him she had saddled herself with a poor beggar man.

Below the Belt paints a sorry picture of the materialism, immorality and insensitivity of young Kenyans today, or at least those who are looking more for money than true love.

It particularly paints an ugly picture of young women as being petty gossips prepared to run with married men (preferably those with social status and wealth), irrespective of how many children they have at home or who’s bound to get hurt.

It also shows women to be hypocritical and mean to sisters who they perceive to be ‘‘beneath’’ them socially. (I suspect the script was written or devised by men.)

But the show can also serve as a cautionary tale, suggesting that it’s wise to beware of matchmakers (like Charlie) who may have ulterior motives for setting you up with the ‘‘perfect partner.’’

Ultimately, the show-stealer of Below the Belt is Victor Nyaata who came on stage dancing in fine funky form and clearly keen to cajole his friend Nick into having a jolly good night. His seemingly spontaneous Karaoke song and dance routines are hilarious and skilful simultaneously.

But Victor and Nick are often paired as a gifted comedic team in Heartstrings Kenya shows as they play off each other really well.

The only flaw in Below the Belt is the format this time round. The Emcee who came on in between scenes needed a better script writer to give her wittier and snappier lines. Otherwise, it was refreshing to see a poised female take on this challenging role.

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