Ngugi wa Thiong’o play back after 32 years

Celebrated Kenyan writer and scholar Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s most controversial play is set to make a comeback to the Kenyan theatres over 30 years after it was banned.

‘I Will Marry When I Want/Ngaahika Ndeenda’, is set to be staged in both Kikuyu and English from May 12 to May 29 at the Kenya National Theatre.

The play was first produced in Kenya in 1977, but was banned after just six weeks of stage plays following what was termed as portrayal of post-colonial struggles. The play was again banned in 1990. Now, after 32 years on hold, the play is expected to boldly grace the Kenyan theatres.

The play, being cast under Nairobi Performing Arts Studio, was slated to be staged in June 2020 but was put on hold following the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic.

“We are finally bringing the play to the Kenyan theatres after delays caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. By the time pandemic struck, rehearsals were on and we had to put everything on hold,” Nash Stuart, Nairobi Performing Arts studio director.

The play will mark the first time to be staged in English and will be starring some of Kenya’s actors including Martin Githinji, Angel Wairimu, Nice Githinji and Annestella.

Mr Stuart said the production studio has reached an agreement with Heinemann Publishers to stage the plays by the celebrated writer.

“We have had agreements with the publishers to stage more plays by the writer. More of such are lined up but we are starting with the famous Gikuyu play, ‘I will Marry When I Want’, which was banned many years ago,” Mr Stuart said.

“I am very excited to be directing a play by iconic Kenyan writer. Unlike other plays I have directed, this one has such a unique place in Kenya’s history and has not been done for over 30 years. It is also the first ever production at the Kenya National Theatre,” Stuart said.

The play is set in post-colonial Kenya and features prominent themes on hypocrisy, corruption of religion, capitalism and politics. The play follows Kiguunda and Wangeci as they try to navigate through a post-colonial Kenya where issues of poverty, theft, low wages, the gap between rich and poor are seemingly as bad after independence as they were before.

The play is set in post-colonial Kenya and features prominent themes on hypocrisy, corruption of religion, capitalism and politics[Courtesy]
The play was, however, banned by authorities for alleged portrayal of post-colonial struggles that harmed citizens. The play lays bare the betrayal of the rich aspirations Kenyans had as the country gained independence only for everything to turn out unexpectedly. It brings the post-colonial struggles amidst the foreign influence that was slowly turning locals away from their traditional beliefs. The play also tactfully portrayed the ruling class as taking advantage of the poor.It also pointed a finger at the church that only acted to drown out the voices of the oppressed citizens. The play was first performed at the Kamiriithu Community Education and Cultural Centre, an open-air theatre at Kamiriithu in Limuru.

The educational and cultural centre was Ngugi’s project that sought to create an indigenous Kenyan theatre in the face of many colonial establishments. The project was targeted at liberating the theatrical process and keeping cultures intact. The play was performed at Kamiriithu for six weeks before it was banned by the authorities.

They said it caused its audiences to feel their vulnerability and lack of capacity to do anything in the face of reality. The play, it was feared, could inspire a revolution. The popular play is also believed to have been the cause of Miiri and Thiong’o’s arrests in December 1977. The writers were released in December 1978 when President Daniel Moi took over the presidency after death of Mzee Jomo Kenyatta. They both went in to exile with Miiri seeking refuge in Zimbabwe and Ngugi in the UK then to US. Miiri died in 2008.

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