Every seat at the Phoenix Theatre was taken and some members of the audience had to stand when 'The Jury' made its debut last Friday evening at the Professional Centre on Parliament Road in Nairobi.
Based on the play Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose, the actors put on a great performance.
In the play, twelve jurors have to prove 'beyond reasonable doubt' whether a boy who allegedly killed his father is innocent or guilty.
At first, they all pass a unanimous verdict of guilty with the exception of one juror (Vicky Gichora) who insists that there the case must be proved conclusively if the boy is to be sent to the gallows.
The rest of the jurors have different reasons for passing a guilty verdict. One of them wants the sitting to end so that he can go and watch a football match. Another wants a guilty verdict because the boy is from a poor background. He is afraid of the poverty-stricken mass that lives in the slums. "They will get us. We have got this one in our hands," he says.
The evidence is watertight, or so it appears. An old woman saw the boy stab his father. An old man saw him run out of the house. The dissenting juror has hard work proving her case with all the rest turning against her.
What follows is a fierce exchange that turns the jury room into a battlefield. Shouting matches and trading of accusations fill the air, some of them personal.
But the undaunted spirit of the juror prevails. She fights on, expertly punching holes in the evidence. She patiently points out the gaps in the witnesses' evidence.
Finally, an old juror (Kevin Amwona) gives in and votes 'not guilty' in a secret ballot as the temper of another juror (Andrew Muthure) flares up as he seeks to know the voter.
With time, seeds of doubt are planted in the minds of the rest of the jurors. At the end, only one of them (Andrew Muthure) sticks to his first verdict, even calling for a 'hung jury' decision when he realises that he is losing. Finally, he has to throw in the sponge and join the rest.
Produced by George Mungai and directed by Nick Njache, the play is a timely message to Kenyans especially during the campaign period and the March 4 election. It shows the importance of the rule of law and the value of listening to diverse opinions.
Sponsored by the US Embassy, the play was excellent proof that Kenyan theatre has come of age. The cast is full of energy and passion. Medrine Nyambura, Kevin Nzevela and Esther Mundia are among the crop of young talent in Kenya.
The play runs until January 26 at 3pm.