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Mombasa's Little Theater effort to reclaim lost glory

By Ishaq Jumbe | November 10th 2021

An entrance at the Little Theatre Club in Mombasa County on Friday 5th November 2021. [Kelvin Karani, Standard]

It is Wednesday evening, and the Little Theatre Club in Mombasa is a hive of activities.

Art is in the air, with performers hustling and bustling about the place in readiness for that elusive night to showcase their talent.

MC Kalipa-Raims, a stand-up comedian, has gone through the collections, and the artists are ready to storm the stage to entertain a small crowd that has gathered. The artists have been rehearsing for the past week.

The nearly 250 capacity Little Theatre Club auditorium has a few other artists.

The extraordinary ensemble of thespians is living on hope for better days. They believe that they have to reclaim the lost glory of the club.

And they are so fired up that performers keep increasing every passing week.

According to Lynn Rose, Committee Member and manager of the club, artists have embraced the new program.

“We have this program called the Platform where performing actors are showcased at the auditorium,” she said.

According to MC Kalipa-Raims, they feature dances, mashups, singing, stand up comedy, verse speaking, collabos and freestyles at the club.

Masufuria, another comedian, is optimistic that despite the low turnout of audiences for the free show, there was still light at the end of the tunnel.

According to the club chairman Valentine Mwakamba, they have co-opted artists into the management so that they could have a say in the running of the club.

“We still require equipment and hope to establish an IT centre so that the youth can be fully integrated and have their club play a part in developing their talents,” he said.

Little Theatre Club is waking up from not only decades of negligence but also Covid-19 effects, which paralyzed operations.

The club was the beneficiary of a Sh500 million facelift, which saw the government renovate it in 2017.

It is the country’s second-largest theatre, and during its heydays, it used to be a prolific venue for plays.

The club was popular with the locals and the most sought after for theatre productions.
Louis Armstrong, the famous American Jazz maestro, visited and performed at the club in November 1960. During his performance, the theatre was bursting at the seams, which used to be the norm back then.

The Munich Chamber Orchestra performed concertos and symphonies by world-renowned composers like Bach, Mozart Hummel, among others, at the club back in 1961.

The Golden Gate Quartet from the US also performed at the Little Theatre Club.

And in 1964, the Presentation of the Department of State of the US, which featured the Cleremont Quartet with their violins and cellos was played at the club.

This action was interspersed with a dose of regular iconic plays like The Night of Magic, Who Killed Santa Claus, Key for Two, How the Other Half Lives, among others. These were presented by foreigners who used to patronize the club in the sixties.

And between 2000 to 2010, the plays by Kenyan playwright, the late Kuldip Sondhi, which included The Goan Saga, Kiosk, Palour Game, Room Service and Don Geronimo, all of which were directed by renowned stage play director Hillary Namanje, were frequently played at the club.

The last play publicized for staging at the Little Theatre was Sekunde Chache by Maisha Max Productions. The organizers successfully planned a modelling show and traditional dance entertainment, according to the club officials.

And now, to sensitize the public on matters of elections, the new team has come up with a theatre production on the need to maintain harmony during the election period.

Titled Damu si Maji, the play is all about Kishipa’s family, who are confronted by the husband of a governor, who is on a killing spree to ensure all opposition members are wiped out so that his wife retains her seat.

It will be interesting to see how that plan works out, seeing that the victims are equally armed to protect themselves and their property and affect the election outcome with their votes.

This is a play that will be performed at the Little Theatre Club on December 13, 2021.

The play is written by Yusuf Mwinyihija and will have Mwakamba as the executive producer.

Producers also include Nolly Raye Jarateng and Mbashir Shambi as the director.

The character list includes Amos Baraza, Josephine Wakhula, Sineno Mohammed Godi, Omar Khalfan, Mariam Dzungu and Juneja Yasin.

With the club mourning one of their great veterans, the late Gillie Owino, his life-size portrait has been placed at the entrance of the auditorium. There is hope that his spirit will be a constant reminder of how high the aspirations of any budding thespian can soar.

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