A very impressive play Kaggia by John Sibi-Okumu

Harry Ebale as Kaggia and Bruce Makau as Jomo Kenyatta
Harry Ebale as Kaggia and Bruce Makau as Jomo Kenyatta

The most recent play at the Phoenix Players was Kaggia written by well known playwright John Sibi-Okumu aka JSO. Of course I had to watch it. I am big fan of JSO and I have been going back to the theatre in recent times so this worked quite well for me.

Phoenix Players at the Professional Centre on Parliament Road usually costs Kshs500 for those who might want to visit and their plays happen on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at 6:30pm and at 3 and 6 on Saturday and Sunday. I went to watch this play on Thursday evening as I knew that there was no way I would be getting seat on the Friday.

The play is directed by Nick Njache and has a cast of Harry Ebale, Lydiah Gitachu, Yriimo Mwaura and Bruce Makau. The way the play is designed, two people come on stage and they start discussing scenes from the life Bildad Kaggia, which are being acted out, and how they would make a movie from it. The title role of Kaggia is played by Ebale while the freedom fighter’s wife Wambui is played by Lydia Gitachu. The other scenes are shared between the other two actors.

Some of the scenes they portray from Kaggia’s eventful life include the timehe is serving time in jail in the North to when he is fighting in Egypt where he had been during World War Two. In independence times we get to see the politician and the drama he has to survive to represent his people as well as after he leaves active politics and starts working at a posho mill. There are also scenes from his domestic life with his wife and daughter.

Some of the more colourful portrayals were done by Makau who played a wide variety of characters including two of the presidents Kenyatta senior and Arap Moi. That actor was very versatile and impressed me.

Also playing a role to remember was Gitachu who is a Phoenix Players veteran with her turn as Wambui. In one scene, she speaks to a journalist (the audience) as she explains how she came to be with this legendary man and how she was happy to share his painful journey however difficult it got.

The play is carried by Harry Ebale as Bildad Kaggia as he goes through his different phases; young man too shy to approach Wambui to fire filled man who stands up to Jomo Kenyatta telling him he was there to represent his people and not become rich. His final monologue where he speaks of the love of his just passed on wife at the funeral is one of the best I have seen in a long while and it left a tear in my eye.

The play is brilliant. JSO is quite the feminist if what was on offer is any indication. He brings out the women in the liberation struggle who have long been unheard of in many narratives about that period of our history with the wife of the hero playing a prominent role. It was appreciated by this play watcher as I have a thing for seeing women in more diverse roles in our arts.

Then there is the history of the period. Kaggia shows a gentlemen many of us were never privy to and you can see the research that was done by the playwright. JSO tells me that there is a biography going for Kshs2,000 at the bookshops and I will be looking out for it.

Taking about the history it reminds us that the brutality that was meted out on our society was so awful that any lists of the evils feature our poor nation prominently. Here is one handy one from Listserve to show you just how bad the Brits did us in; 10 Evil Crimes Of The British Empire – Listverse

With more information coming out as the time passes it is gratifying to see some of our best writers, John Sibi-Okumu is one of the best on the continent in my view, start dealing with those demons. Kenya was done horrible things and we seemed as a society to be suffering some collective Stockholm Syndrome; cosying it up with everything British. Maybe we want to look again at who we are is what this play tells me. It’s a call to action to start digging again to see if the “independence” we gained was at a cost that we are still paying. I have started that journey recently and I recommend that you do.