There was a time in this country when university students and staff used to fill the Kenya National Theatre with stage productions. These were the days when the likes of the late Francis Imbuga, Arthur Kemoli, Kisa Amateshe, Wasambo Were, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, the late John Ruganda, and David Mulwa were in their prime as theatre lecturers and practitioners.
However, when most of them were appointed to administrative positions within the campuses, they became less prolific and there were fewer theatrical productions. For others, age seems to have caught up with them and their stage productivity went down too.
It is with this in mind that the new blood and young cohort of lecturers joining the universities, and rekindling the varsities’ presence at the theatre, is welcome.
Such dons include Dr Fred Mbogo of Technical University of Kenya, who this year directed and staged the play Shoes Have No Tales To Tell and Dr Zippora Okoth of Kenyatta University.
Another one is Dr Emmanuel Shikuku from Kenyatta University, who directed and staged David Mulwa’s play Redemption to a packed auditorium of Kenya National Theatre, Ukumbi Mdogo at the beginning of the month.
The staging of Redemption started as a project for students taking stage-directing as a course under the tutelage of Dr Shikuku.
“The best way students learn directing is by actually being directed in a production that is before the public. This action of equipping skills to learners practically is what the current buzz word, the competence based curriculum, advocates for,” Dr Shikuku says.
“It is, therefore, not new as such since as this play suggests, some of its sections are being implemented in various forms. While the main objective was to honour David Mulwa, a teacher of theatre arts for over 40 years, it was also a learning curve for the younger generation.”
Redemption revolves around a failing church where a new pastor takes over, but quickly realises that there are numerous cracks in the congregation; with the villagers selling their land to a quack Archbishop Muthemba, dwindling church attendance, the ex-communication of Kitaka and his love for the bottle, the enmity between Pastor Mutema and Archbishop Muthemba as well as the poverty hunger and malnutrition facing the community.
He sets out to find a solution amidst opposition over his unorthodox methods of solving issues.
The hypocrisy in society, misuse of religious and political power, parental responsibility, the role of youth in times of conflict, apostasy and role of religious leaders in society are ably tackled and depicted.
Additionally, the play creates awareness among the audience on ways to better society and end conflict.
The highlight of the play at KNT was on the use of dance especially to show the charming seduction Antoninus uses on a clueless and innocent Rebecca. It was a fluid and seamless method new to the play and one that has never been used over the years of reproduction.
The dances all through the play were well-choreographed and masterfully crafted to sustain a fluid narration of the story.
Overall, the cast and director put together a sterling performance, costumes, props and a stage set in relevance to the major theme of religion complete with a crucifix and a rare portrait photo of Hardenstein.
At the end of the play, one went away with a new outlook on the impact of religion in society and matters pertaining the youth, while definitely looking forward to the next production.?