The much-awaited classical play, Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s Ngaahika Ndeenda (I Will Marry When I want), closed its doors on the 29th of May 2022, at the Kenya Cultural Centre, Nairobi. The play that hundreds of scores attended, that was literally sold out, critiques have it now that it was lackluster.
Despite its star-studded cast, which did a splendid job, reviews have questioned its overall execution. The classical piece, which was first staged 35 years ago, was done authentically, lacking a contemporary touch. Kenyans therefore could not really relate to the solid attributes articulated then, in a contemporary world. Many said, the problems 45 years ago, that the play was controversial over, have since been outgrown.
So why did a Kenyan theatre performance, of not so much modernity attract such a huge audience? Curiosity. The Director and Producer, Stuart Nash, of Nairobi Performing Arts Studios, has mastered the craft of reproducing classical pieces, e.g. Sarafina, that was well done, and having Kenyans and foreigners flock to watch them.
However, one would ask whether it was just a matter of curiosity, or we still have the mentality, that if something is produced by a foreigner, has more credibility. Most certainly so. History has it that, that Kenyan theatre lovers, are willing to spend handsomely on what seems to be a good production. The proliferation of theatre companies has seen production houses produce mediocre stories, just for the sake of producing.
Nevertheless, a good theatre production has a myriad of elements, that one must consider. From a good story; great actors and actresses, to investment in a technical team and marketing strategy. Kenya, and Africa at large, has a cocktail of interesting authentic stories. With some selective bias, one Weiner Mandu of Igiza Arts is living proof of what good original story writing is. Others like Derrick Waswa and Fred Mbogo have also taken the theatre space by storm.
In the past, thespians were only focused on foreign adaptations, but the wave has taken a turn, as Kenyans are now seeing the importance of telling their own stories. We don’t have to wait for foreigners to bring credibility to our own.
As the theatre industry in Kenya and the continent of Africa is growing steadily, there is a need for improved financial investment, in productions. Whether the audience of Ngaahika Ndeda was because of pure hype, “Heh, we watched the famous play”, or made up of pure authentic theatre enthusiasts and followers, the conversation must be about the relationship between the psychology of marketing and maximum investment in quality and resources.
On to the next, Stuart Nash, but invest in a good contemporary Kenyan director, who understands the dynamics of the Kenyan cultures.
Otherwise, thespians are happy with the growth of the theatre industry.
Video Courtesy: https://youtu.be/wy7TzSO6lPY