New Nairobi Theatre Group Premiers: Working Title Production

NEW THEATRE GROUP WITH OLD STORY TO TELL By margaretta wa gacheru Posted August 2012 in Saturday Nation I’m always happy to support ‘new’ theatre groups, especially when they have inspired scripts and casts that combine seasoned with fledgling actors who are well directed by thespians who know what they are doing. In almost all these respects, Working Title Theatre Production measured up relatively well when they premiered last weekend in How the Other Half Loves at Alliance Francaise. The group’s producer Robert Agengo got an experienced director, Caroline Odongo, to work with a cast that combined popular local actors like Nice Githinji, Joe Kinyua and Lydia Gitachu with relative new-comers like Veronica Waceke, David Opondoe and Anthony Mwangi who did a valiant job, standing in for Steve Muturi who had to bow out at the last minute. Where the group fell down (for me) was in using a script that replayed the same old story of married couples who cheat, lie, deceive, and disrespect their partners. The story may be cleverly told, including not one or two but three couples entangled in one messy affair, but I’m a bit tired of tawdry comedy that doesn’t tell us anything important or earth-shattering or even a tad enlightening. I had hoped to at least see some sort of class consciousness exposed in this play by the British playwright Alan Ayckbourn, since I understood that Fiona (Lydiah Gitachu) and Frank (Anthony Mwangi) were ‘upper class’ with Frank being the boss over the other two men with whom he works. One is Bob (Joe Kinyua) who’s in middle management and the one having an affair with Frank’s cheating wife; meanwhile, his spouse Terry (Veronica Waceke) is stuck babysitting their new-born child and sniffing out her husband’s infidelity. The other employee is William (David Opondoe) who is meant to be ‘lower middle class’, his humble background most clearly manifest in his shy and socially inept wife Mary (Nice Githinji). But even on this count, I was disappointed since the class distinctions were not as clearly drawn as I suspect the playwright would have wanted. William and Mary, though lacking in ‘small talk’ were more courteous and socially adept, relatively speaking, than Terry and Bob. But then, everyone misbehaves in this show since the lies lead to misunderstandings which in turn lead to nasty knock-down drag-out fights on stage. All of it is meant to be amusing, and audiences seemed to be entertained, but my problem was with the premise of the whole play. Corrupted morals may be the order of the day in most parts of the world (including Ayckbourn’s UK), but when a show starts and ends with cheats, I have to say ho-hum. There’s nothing edifying or new in such a play. But I also have a problem with some non-indigenous scripts that introduce elements of culture which are utterly out of sync with the Kenyan experience. The best illustration of what I mean transpired in the first (of four) acts, when Terry demands to know where her husband has been until 2am the previous night. She nags and nags to know his whereabouts. Of course, he has been with Fiona but he isn’t going to confess. No way, never!! But please tell me how many married Kenyan women inquire every night as to their spouses’ whereabouts? Not many. And as the social surveys report, many cases of domestic violence against wives relate to their having the guts to make such inquiries. In most Kenyan communities, it is simply ‘not done’ to ask your man where he’s been all night. Of course, we have all heard about the so-called ‘Nyeri woman syndrome’ which is typified by women a bit like Terry who engage in domestic violence against men. But such cases as still quite rare. What is curious about the play is figuring out the title: ‘How [does] the other half love’ and how do you split three couples in two? It’s difficult to decipher since the only ones not cheating or lying are the peasants William and Mary. Meanwhile, the high fallutin Fiona is flagrantly dishonest with her Frank as is the cheater Bob who eventually makes peace with his wildcat wife Terry. Ironically, the only one who doesn’t seem to get ‘caught’ for her infidelity is Fiona, but as the show ends, one finds that Frank might be just as discretely unfaithful as his spouse. He might have even known of her indiscretions all along! But in classic Ayckbourn style, we are left wondering if he did or not!

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