Half of my heart wanted to write off the inaugural Kampala International Theatre Festival as yet another of those Uncle Sam cultural imperialist missions. But after the Sundance Institute-funded November 26-30 five-day stage fest, all I wanted to do was give the Festival Director Deborah Asiimwea platonic hug. This was theatre with as much story as trend. Minimalism was the gist here; small casts, minimal props and run times of 90 minutes max! There was no need for humongous cast sizes and up to six hours of playtime!
Perhaps that had to do with the productions being designed to run on a shoestring. And perhaps that was also for ease of travel. However, cast members taking on a multiplicity of roles and rendering dressing rooms obsolete by dressing up right there on stage? Now that is something our cash-strapped drama outfits may want to considerin a bid to minimise costs maybe. The universality of theatre as a mirror of society was ever present in the productions on show from South Africa, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Tanzania and Burundi. Take the sold-out Desperate to Fight,which gave marrieds something to laugh, cry and ponder about. That was one hell of a well delivered performance from its leading lady Gladys “Gida” Oyenbot and her co-star Phillip Luswata, very much in his element singularly playing the three protagonists in her failed marriages.
Radio Play was reminiscent of our own FM radio uncluttered early days. Here, a graveyard shift DJ (the ones that are on between midnight and dawn) finds herself playing therapist to her insomniac listener. They vary from porn-crazed callers to troubled homosexuals. It was as much an indictment on post-genocide Rwanda as it was on the degeneration of radio as less informative and more cotton-candy entertainment. A personal delight was the semblance of a Broadway/ West End styled musical courtesy of the now versatileEric Wainaina. Never mind that he and his co-star Suzan Kerunen were reading off a script with the soundtrack playing off an iPod. His politically charged DJ Lwanda is democracy on trial; lying politicIans, gullible youth, post-election mayhem and the vicious cycle that is adulterated Western democracy in Africa. He had better give us the full course come 2015 in time for us to sober up over the 2016 election year that will be around the corner.
Text: MOSES SERUGO