By margaretta wa gacheru. March 8, 2014
Kenyan theatre currently has a chronic problem. Fortunately, there’s also evidence of a cure in sight.
The chronic problem stems from either laziness or unwillingness on some theatre companies’ part to create new productions of their own. Instead, they lift ready-made scripts from other cultures and do a slight touch-up to indigenize or Kenyanize the plots.
Often these scripts are titillating British comedies steeped in sexual innuendo and lusty scenes such as we saw this last weekend when Festival of the Creative Arts staged Betrayal.
Yet another formulaic script about cheating spouses, the FCA show once again ‘proved’ that not just one gender is culpable of infidelity. Both are invariably found to be cheaters, so no one can claim a moral high ground.

A scene from Festival of the Creative Arts production, Betrayal. Pix by Margaretta

But that doesn’t seem to bother Nairobi audiences who flock regularly to FCA shows, filling the Alliance Francaise auditorium for practically every single weekend run, even when the cast puts on three (and occasionally four) shows a day.
One or two positive things to be said about FCA is first, that they’re consistent in coming out with a production that are snappy and well acted practically every month, and two that the company has proved there truly are massive theatre audiences in the city. But for better or worse, they seem to most enjoy wildly escapist entertainment, the kind provided by groups like FCA and several others.
But if escapist entertainment doesn’t seem to be taking Kenyan theatre very far, there are a number of original new scripts that are being staged currently that can begin to cure the chronic problem of theatre companies staging unoriginal plays.
One is Roots of Pain, Seeds of Shame which just opened at Phoenix Theatre. This collaborative effort, initiated by the NGO Women’s Empowerment Link which wanted to highlight the issue of violence against women from a theatrical perspective, and scripted by Brian Munene for Phoenix. 
WEL, which assists ‘survivors’ of all forms of gender violence, asked Phoenix Managing Director David Opondoe if he could come up with a sensitive script that somehow dramatized various forms of gender abuse, which he and Munene have done. Set in a hospital ward where women are ‘survivors’ of not only rape and FGM, but other forms of physical and psychological violence as well. The show runs through March 16th, the profits from which will be used by WEL to complete construction of a multi-purpose women’s shelter upcountry.
In Seth Busolo’s original script, entitled Borrowed Life, which has one last run tonight (March 8) at the Michael Joseph Centre from 6pm, an ambitious woman suffers from psychological violence in a marriage she is unhappy with. To resist the pain, she embarks on a project without informing her spouse. The consequence of her passive resistance is that there’s a price that she must pay.
Finally, the other original script which opens just a few days after International Women’s Day on the following Thursday at the Shifteye Gallery is Sitawa Namwalie’s Silence is a Women.
A production is quite distinct from the one Sitawa (who wrote, initially directed, produced and stars in) first staged late last year, Silence is still based on Sitawa’s edgy, autobiographical poetry; it still explores the way Kenyans are often silent about the problems that plague them the most, particularly in 1984, the year she returned from studies abroad and found an eerie silence among her fellow Kenyans about the most devastating issues of the day, including famine, drought and dictatorship.
The big difference in this new version of Silence is a Woman derives from the new director Alice Karunditua who Sitawa says has worked wonders restructuring the whole show. Although it’s still based on her insightful poetry and still features three in the cast, herself, Aleya Hassan and Melvin Alusa, plus two instrumentalists, Willie Ramos and Boaz Ochieng, there’s more vibrant energy in this production and new poems that further amplify the challenge she poses, of the need to break the silence and make change and transformation the crux of life.
And as far as Women’s Day performances go, they got kicked off last (Friday) night when the all-women upcountry singing group performed at Alliance Francaise shortly before the four Kenyan women take off for a music competition in France.
Over the lunch our today, Mumbi Kaigwa will also stage a Women’s Day production, and finally, tonight the Goethe Institute continues with its musical ‘rooftop’ celebration of 10 Cities, an initiative shared with nine other global cities. Up until now, all the Nairobi=based 10 Cities events have had a special appeal to Kenyan youth who are fondest of global hip hop, which is what we’ll see tonight at the GI.

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