Celebrating East African Writing!

A Review – The 43rd Tribe of Kenya by Faith Oneya

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.

If you would like this piece to be the Story of the Week, please vote below on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being weak, and 10 being excellent. The numbers will be tallied on Friday and the story with the highest figure shall be Crowned Story of the Week. Be sure to fill in your name and verifiable email. You can include your critique/comment after the vote.


4 comments on “A Review – The 43rd Tribe of Kenya by Faith Oneya

  1. Alexander
    October 27, 2009

    A critical review. Good. Too few of them, too much gratuitous praise. Language could be a bit more polished maybe, but on the whole I liked it. Faith should go on reviewing, she will be good at it.


  2. Fred Mwangi
    November 2, 2009

    Indeed Oneya shines her review torch on crucial points that bares the strength and weakness alike on the ’43rd tribe’play. Its my opinion that a script writer’s intention of a play may differ with even the most honest and professional criticism. In her opening Faith downplays Heartstrings plays in contrast to Aristotelian;(i find the statement weak in generalizing all Heartstrings productions). However she has displayed wealth of information in her analysis.I would like to read more reviews from her. 5/10


  3. Francis K
    November 2, 2009

    Good review by Faith, I will give it a 7.


  4. Faith Oneya
    November 23, 2009

    In my quest to better myself as a critique, I was recently the beneficiary of an educational programme which enlightened me on the exact methods that Heartstrings use.Improvisation!Below is the description of what is entails.

    Improvisational theatre (also known as improv or impro) is a form of theatre in which the improvisational actors/ improvisers use improvisational acting techniques to perform spontaneously. Improvisers typically use audience suggestions to guide the performance as they create dialogue, setting, and plot extemporaneously. Improvisational theatre performances tend to be comedic, although some forms

    The basic skills of listening, clarity, confidence, and performing instinctively and spontaneously are considered important skills for actors to develop.

    In order for an improvised scene to be successful, the improvisers involved must work together responsively to define the parameters and action of the scene, in a process of co-creation. With each spoken word or action in the scene, an improviser makes an offer, meaning that he or she defines some element of the reality of the scene. This might include giving another character a name, identifying a relationship, location, or using mime to define the physical environment. These activities are also known as endowment. It is the responsibility of the other improvisers to accept the offers that their fellow performers make; to not do so is known as blocking, negation, or denial, which usually prevents the scene from developing. Some performers may deliberately block (or otherwise break out of character) for comedic effect — this is known as gagging — but this generally prevents the scene from advancing and is frowned upon by many improvisers. Accepting an offer is usually accompanied by adding a new offer, often building on the earlier one; this is a process improvisers refer to as “Yes, And…” and is considered the cornerstone of improvisational technique. Every new piece of information added helps the improvisers to refine their characters and progress the action of the scene.(Source:

    Yes, I have bored you with the details-so what is my point?My point is that while improvisation might be the case at Heartstrings, this in no way changes the fact that the plays always seem to have been haphazardly put together and crammed with stereotypical jokes and lengthy, often disjointed scenes.

    The audience deserved a well-rehearsed, well-directed play, improvisation notwithstanding.

    Note: Thank you to all who read the review and left comments.


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