Nairobi theatres set for two thrillers

Antony Ndunge and Bernice Nthenya at  Phoenix
Antony Ndunge and Bernice Nthenya at Phoenix Theatre. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU 

The multiple crises that Phoenix Players have been going through in recent times have had an astounding impact on the local arts community, especially as we’ve seen an array of outstanding actors and directors coming out of the woodwork and putting their ‘‘best theatre feet’’ forward on the Phoenix stage.

Among them are Maina Olwenya, Joseph Babu Wairimu, Tash Mitambo and as from this evening, Kamau wa Ndungu, Bernice Nthenya, Antony Ndungu and Alex Kamau, opening in the suspenseful thriller, Kiss of Death.

The surprising thing about our local actors and directors who have come forward to help ‘‘save’’ Phoenix Players from an unceremonious shutdown is that all of these talents have worked selflessly and practically for free.

Frankly, it hasn’t simply been for the love of Phoenix, although some have professed their longstanding (albeit silent) support for the Phoenix Theatre. But all of them have one thing in common and that is their love of live theatre specifically.

At a time when so many of our best actors have jumped the theatre ship and gotten into film and television, it’s refreshing to find a number of performing artistes admit that the stage is still their ‘‘first love’’ and artistic home.

Kamau wa Ndung’u is one of those actors who’s been involved in film-making for several years, but has never forgotten how he went on stage from the age of 10 when his Mathare-based Kiboro Primary School was part of the KBC-TV series, Children’s Theatre.

Yet he admits that ever since he got lured away from the stage by the fast-moving local film industry, he’s had little time to devote to the stage.

Nonetheless, Kamau (who calls himself a free-lance filmmaker) was quick to respond to the SOS coming from Phoenix’s Anita Ngugi who requested longstanding and former friends of Phoenix to come on board and help to bail out the theatre before it becomes a total lost cause.

“There’s nothing like the buzz you get (as an actor) from a live audience,” says Kamau who both directs and co-stars in the suspenseful Simon William thriller, Kiss of Death, which opens tonight at 7:30pm and runs through to June 12.

“We chose to stage a thriller because we believe we’re not the only theatre-lovers who’d like to see something besides rib-tickling comedy performed live,” says Kamau who’s assembled what he feels is an outstanding cast.

The lead, played by Bernice Nthenya (who we know best from her marvelous comedic performances in Heartstrings shows), gets caught up with under-cover cops who are hot on the trail of a serial killer.

Made documentary films

I’m not privy to further details about the show, but as I’ve seen what Kamau has done during his days working with Nick Reding at SAFE Ghetto (2004-2013), I’m assured Kiss of Death is going to be a production you won’t want to miss.

And since his departure from SAFE, Kamau’s made more documentary films and commercials than he can count, so it could very well be that Kiss of Death will go a long way towards restoring the theatrical professionalism that we haven’t often seen since the days when the late James Falkland was at the helm of Phoenix Players.

We just hope that many more performing artists who’ve been in past Phoenix productions will also respond to Ms Ngugi’s call to come stage quality theatre at the Professional Centre.

Meanwhile, Festival of Creative Arts opens next weekend (from Thursday, June 2) at Alliance Francaise in Storm in the City, directed by Martin Githinji.

Said to be a comedy thriller, we will see how FCA puts together the two genres. With a dazzling cast and an exceptional director, FCA is likely to put on another winning performance.

The weekend after that from Thursday, June 9-12 Mbeki Mwalimu and Melvin Alusa will co-star at Kenya National Theatre in With this Ring, I thee Wed, a show we hope to be hearing more about by next week.

And finally, from Kisumu we’ve heard from Obat Masira that the Misango Arts Ensemble will host the Lake Harvest of Plays Festival on June 23 at the Kisumu Social Hall.