NICHOLAS KAWINGA, Lusaka
AFTER nearly a month of a dry spell, Lusaka Playhouse was alive again last weekend with Nkwazi Theatre Club performing a play titled “Rituals”, written and directed by Francis Malunga and co-directed by Samuel
Mubita Sikwa, two young talents taking hold of the arts.
A traditional narrative, the play is about a succession dispute, “the heir to the throne in Chisomo village should never be an albino”, warns Kamuzimu (Lenon Mwanza) of the consequences of, “untold misery and misfortune to the village”. But for King Tangu (Albert Kepi), the outcome of that premonition is to be slighted and challenged.
The play had a double cast for most of its roles, however, this review will only concern itself with the premiere night.
Just on the start, the audience was already left wondering; a village should be presided over by a headman, a cluster of villages by the chief, and then a king presides over chiefdoms. But here in Chisomo village, the king is in-charge of a village. May be, the writer, or the directors should have seen this, and probably worked to remedy this confusion first on.
In the opening scene, the audience is shown King Tangu and his twin brother, Nyuma (Prince Jere) in a ferocious verbal fight, shouting and threatening each other but without a strong conflict base to justify the heat. But again, why not allow actors to talk, to converse with each other, to create reason for the audience to understand the conflict, than shout, shout and shout.
A play’s duration, represents a lifelong of events, a time, an era; you cannot have a character angry from start to the end of the play. Give a character, a life, what to like or not, who does he conspire with in the power politics, if it is Nyuma, to one day usurp power from his brother. Power politics, even in traditional settings are real; some people scheme and conspire to attain power.
However, the audience had a joy of respite in the women-elders – Gogo Mbalose (Daisy Ng’andwe) and Amai Shawa (Precious Dolopo) – executed their roles very well, especially Daisy who one would easily pass her act for an old woman. Their make-up artist did a great job. Even Kamuzimu, the peephole into the future, had a good costume and make-up, doing his consultation with the spirit-world through a horn.
Mwezi (Barbara Mpanga), the King’s wife performed very well and was calm and reasonable. Yes, Davy Muyunda playing Chief Nyoni, was consistent both as a lame man and with his huge appetite for beer. However, the calabash was visibly empty, why not pour Maheu, or indeed any other opaque drink in it, to give the utensil the right balance and believability. Come on, a little detail is what art is all about.
Well, it was Chief Mbuzi (Brian Simulanko), who was a darling of the audience, he delivered brilliantly and it was evident he was enjoying himself. But again, he was assigned too many Nyanja lines in an English language play, or was he just improvising. We might never get to know the truth.
But one theatre scholar, who did not want to named, observed another thing.
“For chiefs to continually argue, and Nyuma insulting elderly women and Chief Mbuzi, in the presence of the King, and the king allows it, did not work for me. And the scene transitory blackouts were long and it was among one of those that I walked out,” he observed.
The play was on a single set, hurriedly put together without any thought to detail, much was covered in black pieces of cloth that looked more like an afterthought; and a few standing bamboo sticks. Set designers must take interest if they wish to build a set, than leave all the work to the day of the show. A good set adds up to a good performance.
For a play to succeed, it takes a lot; a well plotted story, and in which era? A time period, will determine a lot of things such as language choice, costume and other paraphernalia to be employed. And a combination of a good story and a thoughtful play director should deliver a great production.
But interestingly, only a fortnight ago, at a festival in Livingstone, this is the production that nearly swept all the awards.