The Star (Nairobi)

10 January 2013

Kenya: Wanawake Wa Heri Wa Winsa a Great Masterpiece

The Swahili rendition of Shakespeare's Merry Wives of Windsor climaxed at the Wangari Maathai Auditorium, Alliance Francaise, in Nairobi last Sunday. Wanawake wa Heri wa Winsa had been running for three days. It was staged by Theatre Company of Kenya Troupe.

Set in the plush Windsor neighbourhood in Nairobi, the hilarious show brings to light the games, suspicions, schemes and looming tragedies that haunt families living in the fast lane.

The very fat and greedy Falstaff, played by Mrisho Mpoto, expresses his love and desires to two married women in identical letters. But they discover his scheme after comparing notes and agree to punish the lustful Mheshimiwa.

The revenge plan unveils itself with almost catastrophic but hilarious consequences.

There is a scene, for instance, where Falstaff finds himself in laundry basket full of stinking clothes in a bid to escape the wrath of Master Ford (Mourad Sadat). As if that is not enough, he is dumped in the even more stinking Nairobi River.

Falstaff is also forced by the two women (Mistress Ford and Mistress Page) to disguise himself as an old woman when Master Ford suddenly cuts short his golf game and arrives home in a fire-breathing fury. The two women knew all along that the old woman was the last creature that Master Ford wanted to see in his house. The audience was treated to a hilarious moment as Falstaff was chased all around while getting a good beating.

Veronica Waceke played Mistress Ford while Kitt Nyangaya played Mistress Page.

The play explored the thorny issue of love and marriage and the challenges of tying the knot. Perhaps it's a thing of the past, but arranged marriages still exist camouflaged as advice from parents, friends and relatives.

In the play Fenton (Neville Misati) is deeply in love with Ann Page (Sylvia Namusassi). But her rich parents wouldn't allow their daughter to marry a young man who 'has nothing'. Instead they openly plan a meeting with Dr Caius who has the wealth and status to match their own.

In spite of Master Ford's efforts to introduce the doctor to his daughter, the man can't even talk for himself. When she comes face to face with the maiden, he looks everywhere else but her eyes and talks about anything else but love. In the end, love wins and Fenton and Ann are married.

Translated by Joshua Ogutu Muraya (who plays Master Page and Mistress Quickly) and produced by Keith Pearson, the play was definitely another blow to the critics who aver that theatre in Kenya is dead.

Wanawake wa Heri wa Windsor was well received at the Globe to Globe Shakespeare festival in London in April 2012 and received five stars from the Guardian newspaper. Andrew Gilchrist of The Guardian dubbed it "visually intoxicating" and "slapstick tinged with genius". The production also had a successful tour of three cities in India.

With actors such as the seasoned Veronica Waceke (Mistress Ford) and fresh emerging talent, the Theatre Company of Kenya is bound for the zenith. The masterpiece play was directed by Daniel Goldman.

Star ratings: Five stars

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