On the occasion of the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death, the new British High Commissioner Nic Hailey did a jolly good job convincing the guests he invited to his new residence last week that Britain’s best bard is indeed alive and well in the hearts and minds of the world.
That includes Kenyans, starting with the youth who got up on the Mr Hailey’s backyard stage and performed songs from the Shakespeare Songbook. Conducted by members of Sauti Sol, the children sang and danced and started off the variety show in style although subsequent acts struggled a bit.
Part of the problem was the happy party-goers, who despite being under a separate garden canopy, generated so much noise that it was difficult to hear performers like Nigerian actor Inua Ellams, HipHop Shakespeare Company rapper Akala and even the Kenyan actors who performed scenes from three of Shakespeare’s plays, Romeo and Juliet, Merchant of Venice and Macbeth.
The two entertainers that had the easiest time performing above the noise were Octopizzo and Muthoni the Drummer Queen, probably because both are used to doing dynamic shows in front of massive crowds.
The other three who managed to be heard above the noise were the evening’s MC, the poet-actor Sitawa Namwalie and her musical accompaniment, percussionist Willy Rama and Orutu player Boaz Otieno.
But the star of the night was the last act: John Sibi-Okumu defied an electrical outage as well as the noisy crowd which cooled down once he came up to the podium as Mark Anthony giving his final heart-wrenching soliloquy following the murder of his old friend Macbeth.
Sibi admitted afterwards that he had never performed Mark Anthony on stage before, despite having played everyone from Romeo to Shylock in the past.
But the power of Shakespeare’s searing irony came through so clearly in Sibi’s burning words that we had to agree with British Council’s director Tony Reilly who described him as Kenya’s most imminent Shakespearean orator.
Meanwhile, Walter Sitati is one of Kenya’s most masterful playwrights who’s got a knack not just for seeing and dramatising some of the most absurd aspects of what goes on in people’s public and private lives.
We saw that delicate balance played out last weekend during Hearts of Art’s premier performance of All I Ever Wanted at Alliance Francaise.
Possibly Hearts’ best production to date, Sitati’s social satire tackles some of the most difficult and complex topics facing Kenyan society today.