Celebrating East African Writing!
If you are looking to watch a traditional Aristotelian play with the six elements of drama namely character, action (or plot), ideas, language, music and spectacle then the Heartstrings plays will disappoint you.
The latest Heartstrings play-The 43rd Tribe of Kenya, written by Daniel Ndambuki a.k.a Churchill – bears an interesting title, you might say, until you realize that only the play has a name. The characters are virtually nameless. Those who do have names simply go by titles such as Mama so and so or Baba so and so! The actors switch characters so fast that the audience is left wondering whether there is an acute shortage of characters or they are just improvising. This denies the actor the opportunity to establish himself as either the hero or villain in the play.
A character who plays the role of a Somali teacher / trigger-happy refugee also plays the role of a troublesome youth, an area councilor and a greedy headmaster. Such a character may be compelling to watch as an area councilor but not as a troublesome youth. The actors keep changing roles at such a fast pace that one is left to wonder whether they are watching stand-up comedy or a scripted play. (Come to think of it, there is no disclaimer to this effect on the ticket)
Plays have to be about something and have got to have some form of order or structure-otherwise you might lose your audience somewhere in the middle of trying to bring in twenty themes to a two-hour long play. Granted, the 43rd tribe of Kenya had a central theme of Impunity. The norm would be that this aspect would manifest itself in every aspect of the play-and in this regard, the play was handled brilliantly by both the actors and the writer.
The language used in a play also contributes greatly to its appeal. The characters in the Heartstrings play communicate in what can loosely be described as Ki-English.I have created this new word because it is a strange mixture of sheng(meaning, if I was watching this play with my dear mother, she would constantly tap my shoulder to ask me what the person meant) , Kiswahili and English. The actors are sadly, inarticulate in either language, sometimes leaving the audience which consists of Kenyans and foreigners alike dismayed.
Music in a play contributes to the atmosphere, can create tension or loosen it, heighten emotion or reduce it. This means therefore that the music in a play needs to play a role at all times. The music played in the 43rd tribe of Kenya was mostly club music-which served the sole purpose of distracting the audience since it was also unnecessarily loud. Then again, maybe the playwright meant to elicit the emotion of annoyance with his plays.
Spectacle in a play includes the set and costume. The narrator of the play, Larry Asego, had it together in a sharp white suite while his fellow actors suffered through the play in sometimes highly inappropriate dressing or even torn garments which were unsightly, to say the least. There were however, some character like the Kiswahili teacher and Chemistry teacher to dressed right for their roles.
What the Heartstrings plays lack in character, action (or plot), ideas, language, music and spectacle, they make up for in the numerous punch lines delivered by a highly creative cast .The promise that it keeps is that you will laugh. And I laughed.
© Faith Oneya 2009
This piece is Faith’s experiment with art review. Your honest opinion about her piece will be most appreciated.
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