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The Arts

Rise of the New Faces in Theatre

The Jinice Visafe troupe. Photo – Jinice Visafe

 

 

ROLL THE DICE
A review by Simyu Barasa.

‘Alea iacta est’, The dice is cast. These were the words of Julius Ceaser when he crossed the Rubicon River, signalling that with that deed, the point of no return has been crossed and the games have to begin. The games being war.So, I walked into the Kenya National Theatre on a Thursday to the Cheche Gallery at the Kenya Cultural Centre to watch a play called ‘Roll the Dice’, directed by Nice Githinji, and written by Mwaura N Bilal. Coming at a time when the Kenyan state has been gripped by a series of murders of University (and non University) girls due to love affairs with ‘sponsors’ (richer, older men who fund their lavish lifestyles), sitting through the play made one delve into the precarious lives of young university girls caught in their desire to have lavish lifestyles in this era of instagram and politics and HIV and lecherous lecturers and, well, old school parents back at home who still believe they have brought up their kids in very holy ways.

Charles Kyalo (Neville Ignatius) & Kami (Lucy Wahito)
Charles Kyalo (Neville Ignatius) & Kami (Lucy Wahito) going for the ‘bottoms up’

The previous evening, over a drink with some serious sponsors and academics Fred Mbogo and the Eldoret lecturer Bii Cosmas and film producerBetty Kathungu-Furet, the academics marvelled at the guts of the theatre production staging its play smack in the middle of the week, and not the usual weekend runs. They had watched it the previous evening and were amazed one would get a full house in the middle of the week.
Well, to say that it was chaotic when I went to the show on Thursday would be an understatement. The hall was full, yet more and more people popped in to buy tickets at the door. Maybe the management ought to have stopped the sale when it was clear that it was full house? But no, Nairobians do not want to understand that nonsense when they have already gotten to the entrance, and in our matatu mentality, there was an ‘there is always space for just one more me” . Erm, I have to confess I too refused to be turned away and ended up one ass in the theatre and one ass outside the door. So chaotic was the situation that audiences were willing to collect rehearsals chairs strewn around the theatre grounds and carry them into the theatre and try squeeze themselves in. Despite the chaos, the audience seemed to love every minute of the show, laughing, cheering, and ululating in multiple spasms. I guess this can be a producer’s wet dream.For a versatile actor now adding script writing to his resume, Mwaura N Bilal’s script was very good. Despite a slow start it picks up pace super fast and is quite thrilling. What was more suprising is that of the ten person cast, only three had ever acted before, a fact that the director/producer Nice Githinji said was deliberate. So deliberate that the poster for the show did not have any faces or actor names “so that you do not ask me who are these actors?” said Nice. Charles Kyalo (as Neville), Valentine Njeru (Denise), Clyf Njeru (Alchemist), Violet Bijura (Annabel) Lucy Wahito (as Kami) did a sterling job as happy go lucky campus students. The greenness showed a bit though especially with Kami, there were moments of trying too hard and some screeching in her voice as she confused projection with shouting. Wahito though is sure on a fast rise to stardom, despite these lapses. The difference in stage composure was clear when Vitalis Wesh (as Sule) and Keith Chuaga (as the Prof) stepped on stage, their experience showing clearly and helping everyone else settle down.
Group selfie – Lucy Wahito (as Kami), Violet Bijura (Annabel), Ignatius (as Charles Kyalo), Clyf Njeru (Alchemist), and Vitalis Waweru (as Suleiman)
Despite those small moments, the audiences quite loved the play and the synergy between the audience responses to the humour and the actors on stage is an envious thing to watch.Perhaps the scriptwriter put too much issues into one piece? From condoms to gay issues to pregnancies to politician sponsors to sex for marks to high grade weed to …erm…almost everything? Could handling a few core issues have led to a more coherent script? Maybe that is me, the audience loved it though. Perhaps the director slackened a bit in handling some critical moments in the play, ending up in actors like Alchemist and Kami overacting and having a flurry of movement and stiff actions in some sections? Maybe, that is me, the audience loved it though.
Valentine Njeru (Denise), Violet Bijura (Annabel), Lucy Wahito (as Kami)
Coming a few weeks after another troupe did a sterling job with ‘Nescessary Madness 2’, only to say that the cast was an ensemble of actors who had been rejected in many auditions till they decided to form their own production house, the fact that the ‘Roll the Dice’ team was largely newbies is quite something. That novices can fill auditoriums not just on weekends but on weekdays, shows that Nairobi appreciates theatre and that theatre practitioners are giving the quality Nairobi has been desiring for long. That a super actor like Mwaura N Bilal can pen such a script, shows that multi-talent needs to be exploited to the max. While some artistes can sit and mourn that there ‘are no jobs’ and that ‘Kenyans do not love their own’, the fact that there is a flurry of theatrical activities almost every day, with audiences jostling to attend, renders this a cry babyish thing. Roll your own Dice. Cross your non existent Rubicon.Get up, team up, do some nice work, and create art.
Keith Chauga (Prof) watches on as Nice (Director) introduces Bilal (Writer) and flanked by Esther Kahuha (Producer) on the left during the curtain call.

Nice crossed the Rubicon by rolling the dice, putting a team of new faces on stage and doing a good job at it. The challenge now is that the success of the theatre in the past few months can draw in a flood of charlatans after quick monies with shoddy productions which might throw audiences off even for good productions. How the theatre protects itself from this, we wait to see. Oh, now that Nice and Sitati have shown that one can get full houses without familiar faces, does it mean that all those ‘stars’, some with ‘big’ jobs in media houses and with ‘influencer’ power, are actually not all that when it comes to bringing audiences?
I shall cross that Rubicon of discussion at another time. As of now….

THE END.

Article by

Simiyu Barasa     Filmmaker

Click here for more on the Jinice Visafe Initiative.

Click here for a list of the whole cast and crew

Click here for how the vision was crafted.

Click here for pictorial moments.