The Nation (Nairobi)

1 March 2008

Kenya: 'When the Cat's Away' Likely to Be the Play to Watch

opinion

Nairobi — When the cat's away the mice will play. And the mice are in our case two philandering husbands who are part of When the Cat's Away - a comedy by Festival of Creative Arts that starts at the Alliance Francaise auditorium in Nairobi on Friday.

But let's begin with the story of the cats that go away. One is Mildred, a long-suffering and frustrated wife planning a second honeymoon in Zanzibar with George, her dithering husband.

Then enters her frosty sister Ethel, who has just left her philandering spouse Humphrey who is having an affair with his secretary, the cheery Jennifer. Convinced that men are good for nothing, the two sisters decide to make the trip minus their husbands. So when the cats are away, one mouse, Humphrey, decides to date Jennifer who drags along Shirley, her dowdy room-mate. Surveying the situation, Humphrey blackmails George into dating Shirley. And as happens in all farces, their wives return unexpectedly.

If you liked, Perfect Wedding, Festival's theatrical offering of three weeks ago, then When the Cat's Away by Johnnie Mortimer and Brian Cooke could be a farce worth looking forward to.

What's more, it features Festival's now bankable cast of Mildred (Angel Waruinge), George (Derrick Amunga), Ethel (Hellen Waithera) and Shirley (Mbeki Mwalimu). Crystal Mbuga last appeared on stage at the Phoenix during the staging of Creeps by German playwright Lutz Hubner in October last year.

A month before, she played a constable's role in Dave Freeman's comedy, Kindly Keep it Covered, by Festival. Mbuga is a promising actress, if her performance in Creeps is any stage to measure her talent by. Mbuga who played a "sister killjoy" role in Creeps, will play the bubblier one of Jennifer, one half of the charming sex kittens that George hosts in his house.

We are more used to watching Melvin Alusa in local films Cajetan Boy's Benta, Richard Bresson's Help! and Rabuku Ombati's Mob Justice than on stage.

Alusa will play Humphrey in this farce that costs Sh400 for adults and Sh300 for advance booking and students.

Tickets are available at Assanand's Music shop of Nairobi's Moi Avenue, City Book Centre, Nginyo Towers and the Alliance. Sam Otieno will direct this "fast-paced" comedy.

Jean McConnel's Deckchairs IV played to below-average audiences at the Phoenix Players despite sterling efforts of Chao Mwatela, Angie Musira and Hawa Essuman.

Could it be that theatre-goers were not keen on three 25-minute playlets? Well, we're no longer in the 1990s when theatre lovers didn't mind cerebral two-handers like Athol Fugard's Sizwe Bansi is Dead.

Indeed, Festival just shelved Caroline Leach's The Mysterious Mr Love, a two-hander, for When the Cat's Away. That's funny. Willy Russel's Shirley Valentine, staged at the Phoenix in April last year, was a well received, one-woman show.

Maybe a full-length thriller will do - like Peter Whalley's Dead of Night that opens on Saturday at the Professional Centre. It revolves around Jack who has just been acquitted of manslaughter. But was he really innocent?

Maqbul Mohamed and Wairimu Mwaura direct Chao Mwatela, Andrew Muthure, Louizah Wanjiku and Gilbert Lukhalia till March 15.

Issues closer home will be tackled by Eric Ndung'u's Fanaka Arts Theatre, an education group that's performing the adaptation of Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye's novel, Coming to Birth, and Kifo Kisimani, a Swahili play by Kithaka wa Mberia.

These plays, that go for Sh150 for two books and Sh80 for one, began this week and will run at the Kenya National Theatre till March 15.

They will be directed by Jasper Odak (Coming to Birth) and Joel Otukho (Kifo Kisimani). There will be more issues Kenyan in Back to Basics, a dramatised solo performance by Linus Odhiambo at Alliance Francaise on April 5.

Odhiambo, if you recall, delighted us as Daktari in Identical Twins, the adaptation of Carlo Goldoni's Servant of Two Masters, staged by Heartstrings three weeks ago.

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