ART

Church wrangles through the prism of Mulwa play 'Redemption'

The action, characterisation and staging environment was excellent

In Summary

• The play dissects the politics of administration of houses of God in our times

KU students act out the play
KU students act out the play
Image: JKS MAKOKHA

The great Irish theatre critic and playwright George Bernard Shaw once said that we use the mirror to see our face, but we use works of art to see our souls.

This month, the veracity of this statement came alive with the staging of one of our country’s best plays since independence, Redemption. The play was staged at the newly refurbished Kenya National Theatre in Nairobi on August 8.

It is an iconic play written by one of Kenya’s finest post-Independence playwrights, David Mulwa. Mulwa, turned 74 years of age and was celebrated by students and dons of the Theatre Arts department of Kenyatta University.

 
 

Redemption was written in 1989 as part of the celebrations of the National Council of Churches of Kenya. The play revolves around the role and dynamics of the church in our contemporary society. We have witnessed wrangles in church leadership in recent times. The play dissects the politics of administration of houses of God in our times.

Youth leadership in society and its reception by establishments is the heart of the matter in the play. In the story, a young pastor receives stiff resistance from the flock and higher powers of the church he has been posted to serve. The major issue is his rather youthful age, transformative ethos and the contestatory belief entrenched in society that leadership belongs to the elderly.

Using a set of conflicts pitting different members of the society, from the old versus the youth to the moral versus the hypocritical and so on, Mulwa later advocates redemption. He sees it as a portal through which our society can enter into a space of rehabilitation, reconstruction and redemption.

Speaking at the event to the Ugandan theatre and literary critic, Danson Kahyana of Makerere University, Mulwa pointed out that a human being needs both feet, not just one, however strong it may be. In the wake of the ongoing debate on the new CBC curriculum and the ascendancy of STEM subjects, he calls for the recognition and protection of the fundamental role that drama and other arts play in education. Drama and theatre are not just arts but pivotal methodologies also, by which instruction can be realised in schools and classroom situations.

Dr Kahyana and David Mulwa at the event
Dr Kahyana and David Mulwa at the event
Image: JKS MAKOKHA

MAESTRO OF THEATRE

Mulwa has taught Theatre Arts in the same university since the 1980s, and is a peer to other theatre luminaries from the same institution, such as Wasambo Were and the late Francis Imbuga. 

He is a consummate maestro of theatre who has penned over 44 literary works. His face is synonymous with Kenyan TV and local cinema for over four decades. His more recent play, 'The Inheritance', is currently a set book in secondary schools across the country.

 
 

Dr Kahyana, on the other hand, is a visiting scholar to Kenyatta University’s Department of Literature, Linguistics and Foreign Languages under a staff-exchange programme of the Inter-University Council of East Africa.

The play was rehearsed and produced by theatre arts students based at Ruiru Campus as part of their training on stage directing. Their instructor, Dr Emmanuel Shikuku, argues that theatre belongs to the people. He cites our national past and argues that the spirit of the university travelling theatres of the golden 1960s in Uganda and 1970s in Kenya needs to be revived. University theatre companies should re-engage with the society and descend from the ivory tower.

 

Our national theatre in the CBD in Nairobi has been refurbished by the government and was relaunched by President Uhuru Kenyatta. It made for the perfect venue for the relaunch of the new varsity-society, education-arts, students-public rapport envisioned by the views of Shaw, Mulwa and Shikuku above.

Dr Shikuku, a former chairman of the Department of Theatre Arts and Film Studies, directed the play. He was assisted by several students who occupied crucial roles, such as: Sara Mueni (Assistant Director), Magdalene Mugure (Production Manager), Lydia Wangari (Stage Manager), and for Lighting Design (Brian Njoki and Linda Namunyak). Thirteen students appeared in various roles, including the talented and upcoming youthful stage director Mark Maina.

Placing students at the centre of learning and educational experience is the hallmark of the new curriculum. Their competencies should be identified and cultivated.

Among those in attendance was Dr Fred Mbogo, a leading theatre educationist based at the Technical University of Kenya. He termed laudable the practical mentorship of upcoming thespians and directors, as demonstrated through this historic show of Mulwa’s Redemption at the national theatre by Kenyatta University’s students. He said it calls for emulation.

The play’s aesthetics at the level of action, characterisation and staging environment was excellent, except for a few brief instances of forgotten lines by minor characters.

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Dr Makokha teaches Literature and Theatre at Kenyatta University. [email protected]