Author Ngugi wa Thiong'o [Photo: Beverlyne Musili]

One of celebrated writer and scholar Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s most controversial plays will return to Kenyan theatres 30 years after it was banned.

I Will Marry When I Want, which was co-written by Ngugi wa Mirii and Ngugi wa Thiong’o was first produced in Kenya in 1977 but was banned after just six weeks of stage plays following what was termed as the portrayal of post-colonial struggles.

The play was again banned in 1990. Now, after 30 years on hold, the play is expected to boldly grace the Kenyan theatres.

Long-awaited comeback

The play is currently being cast and will be produced by Nairobi Performing Arts Studio in time for a comeback in theatres by June.

“For the first time in 30 years, the play will be staged at the Kenya National Theatre. We are currently doing the casting. It will also mark the first time the play will be staged in English,” Mr Nash Stuart, Nairobi Performing Arts studio director, told Saturday Standard.

Mr Stuart said the production studio has reached an agreement with Heinemann Publishers to stage the plays by the celebrated writer.

“We have had agreements with the publishers to stage more plays by the writer. More of such are lined up but we are starting with the famous Gikuyu play, I will Marry When I Want which was banned many years ago,” Mr Stuart said.

The play is set in post-colonial Kenya and features prominent themes on hypocrisy, corruption of religion, capitalism and politics. The play, was however banned by authorities for the alleged portrayal of post-colonial struggles that harmed citizens.

The play lays bare the betrayal of the rich aspirations Kenyans had as the country gained independence only for everything to turn out unexpectedly. It brings the post-colonial struggles amidst the foreign influence that was slowly turning locals away from their traditional beliefs. The play also tactfully portrayed the ruling class as taking advantage of the poor.

It also pointed a finger at the church that only acted to drown out the voices of the oppressed citizens.

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Author Ngugi wa Thiong'o [Photo: George Orido]

Indigenous theatre

The play was first performed at the Kamiriithu Community Education and Cultural Centre, an open-air theatre at Kamiriithu in Limuru.

The educational and cultural centre was Ngugi’s project that sought to create an indigenous Kenyan theatre in the face of many colonial establishments. The project was targeted at liberating the theatrical process and keeping cultures intact. The play was performed at Kamiriithu for six weeks before it was banned by the authorities.

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They said it caused its audiences to feel their vulnerability and lack of capacity to do anything in the face of reality. The play, it was feared, could inspire a revolution.

The popular play is also believed to have been the cause of Miiri and Thiong’o’s arrests in December 1977. The writers were released in December 1978 when President Daniel Moi took over the presidency after the death of Mzee Jomo Kenyatta. They both went into exile with Miiri seeking refuge in Zimbabwe and Ngugi in the UK then to US. Miiri died in 2008.

The play is set to portray a colonial era to a whole new generation who might not have experienced it.

I will Marry When I Want is a very iconic play that will bring to life post-colonial era to a new generation, some of whom might not have experienced it,” Stuart said.

The play, he added, will also be staged in the Nakuru Players Theatre and other counties.

“Nakuru County is one of the places where the play will be staged,” he said. Nairobi Performing Arts Studio is casting for this play just a month after staging the famous South African musical, Sarafina.