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Ngugi's play goes back home after 45 years

Arts and Culture
 Actors during the rehearsals of 'I will marry when I want/Ngaahika Ndeenda at the Nairobi Performing Arts studio. [Photo, Courtesy]

The last time Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Ngugi wa Mirii’s iconic play was staged in Limuru was in 1977 at the Kamiirithu Cultural Centre. Soon after it was banned and both authors arrested. They later fled to exile. The centre was demolished by policemen in 1982.

This weekend, the play finds itself back home in Limuru with the Nairobi Performing Arts Studio staging the play at St Francis of Assisi Catholic Church starting on Friday and ending today. The venue is barely three kilometres from Kamirithu Polytechnic, where the Kamiirithu theatre stood.

Speaking yesterday after the first day of performance, the director Stuart Nash said the experience was the highlight of his career.

“Bringing Ngugi’s most famous play home to where it was performed 45 years ago will be a memory that will stay with me forever. I’m really humbled to have had this opportunity,” he said. 

Nash said the cast visited the site of the Kamiirithu theatre and met some of the original cast of the play.

The play has also attracted attention from other regions with at least ten towns requesting to have the show taken to them, something Nash said they would like to do.

Just like in May when the play was on stage at the Kenya National Theatre, the troupe is holding performances in both Kikuyu and English.

At the time, Nash said the use of the languages was deliberate: English to reach as many people as possible and Kikuyu because that was the original language the play was written in. 

“The play was originally written in Kikuyu, and however good translation is, certain things are not quite the same. Like a lot of the idioms and sayings once translated into English, are not quite the same.”

Significantly, Ngugi wa Thiong’o has been at the forefront of championing the use of indigenous languages. 

Writing in April before the play went on stage, Ngugi wa Thiong’o said: “The play filters my understanding of Kenya’s post-colonial condition, where greed, avarice, and corruption by the political class, was taking root and it anticipates the nightmare what has become something of a national affliction.”

The switching languages during the performance was a unique challenge for the cast, some of whom had never done a play in Kikuyu before. 

In a previous interview, Nice Githinji, one of the lead actors said it felt like doing two different shows. 

The play features a stellar cast of, among others, Mwaura Bilal, Angel Waruinge, Martin Githinji, Martin Kigondu and Veronica Waceke.

When the show went on stage in May, it was perhaps the first complete performance of the play in Kenya to be held without any State interference.

Writing about the play more than 30 years ago, 2021 Nobel Prize for Literature winner Abdulrazak Gurnah, in a piece titled Ngugi’s Christ With a Gun, published in a 1989 issue of Index on Censorship said this was not the first time Ngugi was writing on this topic.

“What made this work particularly offensive to the authorities was that it was accessible to a popular audience,” he wrote on the play’s banning.

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