By Kiundu Waweru
Bones litter the stage before methodically forming and gaining shape of an animal. The bones then take the audience back in time, towards the circumstances leading to the demise of the animal that once roamed the Maasai Mara freely.
This is in a puppet production, The Last Man Standing, by Krystal Puppeteers at the Italian Institute of Culture. Using puppetry, the show, which is largely done in pantomime, takes the audience to 2076 where life, as we know it, has become extinct due to the continued destruction of the environment.
The show begins with an old man shuffling to the stage before sitting behind a desk. He begins to write a letter, and as he writes, the audience hears the prerecorded words over the speakers.
"We are in the year 2076. I just turned 26 years old but I look 76," he writes. "Today, I am the oldest person living in this society. I remember when I was six years old. There were a lot of trees in the pars, houses had beautiful gardens and I could enjoy long baths and stay in the showers for one whole hour, everything was very different. Now we have to clean ourselves by using disposable towels moisturised with mineral oil. I remember the warning — do not waste water.’
Puppets are objects used as characters in theatrical performances with the audience perceiving life and spirit from their movements, shape and other aspects of their performances.
Puppeteers strive to bring life to ordinary objects, and the Krystal Puppeteers, the trio of Philemon Odhiambo, Fidelis Kyalo and Peter Mutie succeed in this aspect. The said bones, which are a carcass of a wildebeest, take us back to the present, when people are being warned to conserve the environment, amid economic activities like felling of trees.
The wildebeest is seen living happily along the banks of a river flowing with calm still waters. Soon, she gives birth to a bouncing calf that she proudly names Ndume, but unfortunately Ndume falls prey to a crocodile living in the river.
Devastated, the wildebeest embarks on a journey in search of Ndume, but she too falls victim, when man destroys her habitat. The show takes the better part of an hour, and it’s entertaining to see how the puppeteers bring their objects to life using visual effects and manipulation. However, seeing as most of the scenes run in mute, if one is not attentive, you will be confused as to what is taking place.
The audience is mostly white and the puppeteers say that the reason is because Kenyans have not fully embraced the art of puppetry.
"Puppetry was introduced in Kenya in 1994, and since it’s still a young art form, Kenyans have not fully grasped it. We however have annual festivals that are geared to create awareness,"says Philemon Odhiambo, Artistic Director, Kenya Institute of Puppet Theatre.
Odhiambo adds that they have been concentrating more with social issues, but they are undergoing a transformation that will see them incorporate more of the artistic form with their puppeteering.
The show ends with the young man who resembles an old man mourning about lost opportunity of conserving his environment. He concludes, this is no game, do it for your children, do not leave them hell as a legacy, leave them life!