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Necessary Madness

Volume 15, Issue 3  | 
Published 05/02/2019
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Play Review by Stagelight

Hearts of Art were absolutely stunning and electrifying in the world premiere of Necessary Madness on September 7th, 8th and 9th at Braeburn Theatre and its second showing at the Kenya National Theatre on October 6th and 7th 2018.

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With the deft penmanship of Walter Sitati and co-writer Eve Warui combined with the sublime direction of Caroline Odongo along with a first rate cast in industry veterans Peter Kawa, Ian Mbugua, Benson Ojuwa, Pauline Kyalo and Frazier Chilande, the play was superlatively performed to deliver a bitingly funny and soul-chilling tale on one of the most important themes in the country: the paralyzing corruption that grows like a weed feeding on shocking incompetence in leadership and a moral compass in the common citizen that is muddied and broken.

The story is told at three levels. On the one hand, there is the story of Lesedi, a fiercely determined, albeit self-righteous, community organizer who has given up her law career to create the vital link between the people and the local government. Having lost her mother owing in large part to the regrettable and lamentable infrastructural conditions in her town – the roads were too poor to allow a faster emergency ride to hospital and the hospitals too ill-equipped to offer emergency medicare – Lesedi believes the only way to improve the lives of the citizens is to channel the potential latent within the young generation towards community engagement and improvement.

She approaches the governor seeking funding for HyperSpace, a high-end technological project that is designed to bring hundreds of slum youth into meaningful employment through creation of apps and deploying technology to solve some of the most pressing slum problems such as security, sanitation and emergency medical attention.

Though the project looks promising, the Governor has other ideas on what he considers to be urgent business on his to do list: nothing. Convinced that anything that goes towards making lives better for the people and making them more enlightened can only mean the end of his reign; he is reluctant to have the project take place. Sold out to the belief that he belongs to the super human class whose feet never touch the ground with the rest of the lesser mortals, he insists on the proper respect for the status quo in which the grinding poverty of his subjects is the mark of his greatness.

Lesedi is enraged, for the governor is categorical he cannot avail the funds she is looking for if there are no clear provisions:  ‘not to muzzle the ox that threshes the corn.’  She remains firm, threatening to turn the tide of the people against him, and since Zuri, the governor, acknowledges the considerable weight Lesedi wields with the people, he bows to her demands, though we later learn he is only back-trapping and looping.

The second story features Nessa, Lesedi’s teenage daughter who has developed The Conscience Watch, a website that is dedicated to fighting corruption. People post stories and videos when they see or participate in anything that is corrupt by nature, and she has a special bias towards improving the policing department. Her best friend in school, Ziki, is the governor’s only daughter, and Nessa takes issue with the fact the Ziki has refused to work or learn anything that will make her a more powerful and contributing member of the community. Ziki is unfazed, believing she doesn’t have to work since her father has ‘a big shadow’.

The third, and perhaps the most intriguing tier of the story, follows Dakarai, Lesedi’s husband and Nessa’s father. He is a traffic police officer who is rejected by his own daughter. She wants nothing to do with his presence or his money because she believes his money comes from the tears and curses of the people he harasses on the road, and he is on the radar to behave himself not to compromise his wife’s work or appear on his daughter’s website.

He is a man who has suffered. Joining the force with a clean heart and hands and dedicated to serving his nation, Dakarai quickly learns that being honest in a corrupt system is a lonely and highly painful position. His life is in constant danger from those who cut deals and his colleagues keep sidelining him considering him the enemy within. Because he refuses to flow with the sewer of the corrupt masses, he is often sent to roundabouts and dangerous places. Finally, unable to stand the pressure, he has given up the fight and decided to play along with the others. The moral dilemma of such officers was on the stage, and the performances moved and touched many.

The turning point in the play comes when Lesedi and Nessa meet in the house in the evening, and learn, to their horror, that Dakarai is trending on the website. He stopped a young lady over a traffic infraction and would not let her go even after she tells him she has an emergency in the house. Even when Dakarai lets her go, it is a little too little too late. The young lady’s sister died as she struggled without help in labour, and the faulty vehicle he let pass under his watch after a token bribe got involved in an accident, killing, among other people, Ziki, the governor’s only daughter and Nessa’s one true friend who was on the path to consciousness.

The play offers refreshing insights into the fuel that keeps the fires of corruption burning, and makes no apologies for the attitudes, from both the top officers in the country who demand for cuts and the common citizens who use corruption as a temporary way out a tricky situation. It took the audience along what can only be Kenya’s most damaging national trait: Escapism through laughter. The casual approach that scary corrupt scandals are dealt with is almost always treated as a joke, and as long as there are a few tweets here and there mainly milking the most fun out of everything, the nation quickly forgets and moves onto what else is exciting in the market.

It was perhaps for this reason that the co-creators of the play, Walter Sitati and Eve Warui, told the story from a devastating satirical point. What could otherwise be painful moments of unspeakable horror were told with such high levels of satiric punch lines and humor that the full house audiences couldn’t hold back from rolling with laughter. One such scene was the hospital scene where victims of a road accident took three days to be brought in because, ‘the ambulance drivers had quit to join Uber and Taxify’. The poor facilities and lack of supplies such as lack of anesthesia meant patients who needed surgery would have to go through the operation ‘in the spirit of public participation or full patient observation’.

 

What the playwrights, and the actors – all very fine by the way, including powerhouse performances from even the support actors such as Elvis Gatere, Allan Wasike, Tracy Amadi and the eight-year-old Alison Chemiat – did not spare the audience; however brutal the end that awaits any society that will not heed the call to make conditions better for everyone else. The governor, learning of the death of his daughter, collapses and it takes three days to get him to the very hospital he has refused to improve. Dakarai, the most conflicted of all characters, steps out in the darkness because the family wants nothing to do with him and the police are coming for him. The country is outraged by his actions and they are not looking just for his badge, they want his blood.

Necessary Madness goes high up as one of Kenya’s funniest and most fearless productions that tackles one of the country’s most enduring dilemmas: corruption. But it does more than that. It walks through the mind and shines light in those dark places where current attitudes that lean towards cynicism are summoned back to sound citizenship.

It is for this reason that Transparency International and Kenya Human Rights Commission must be thanked for partnering with and sponsoring the play, and the unanimous thought is that the play deserves to be watched by the whole nation.

It is also very interesting to note that the writers are working on Deliberate Contempt, a sequel to Necessary Madness which will premiere at the Kenya National Theatre on 11th April 2019 and run through to the 14th.

The only question that one needs to ask whenever Hearts of Art show up with a play, if their past works are anything to go by, is whether the laughter and tears that will inevitably flow are justified. The answer, happy to report, is yes.

Last modified on Monday, 25 February 2019 19:40