A scene from Radio Play, one of the productions that featured during the Kampala International Theatre Festival.
“You should know that the government is following you.”
That statement can easily be understood to mean a warning by government to a ‘bigheaded’ opposition politician.
Far from it!
When a minister goes to a radio station for an interview, he and the presenter chat after the show. The conversation appears casual, with the minister asking the presenter how his father is doing (the presenter’s father is a cleaner at the radio station by the way, and that is a well-kept secret).
But as the minister leaves, he tells the presenter to talk about government in more positive light –to have some patriotism. He then drops the subtle warning.
And he follows the threat to the letter.
Soon after, the presenter receives calls stopping songs that the establishment deems unfit. When the presenter gets a call demanding that he should play ‘local songs’, he picks Chop My Money, by Nigerian duo P-Square.
Immediately, the presenter gets a protest call. That song is not ‘local’ enough, the minister says and rants several more ‘concerns’ and recommendations to which the presenter responds with a Yes Sir! and Long Live the Nation!
Then he mumbles an explanation: “The song is not about corruption, Sir…I don’t think government is chopping my money.”
The presenter also has to twist the news flashes – keen to avoid presenting government in bad light. For instance, a news flash stating that an NGO had donated footballs, is changed to read that the donation is by government.
And when a suspected terrorist attack occurs, the presenter is at a loss, he is frustrated because he knows presenting the news as it is, will put him in trouble; so he doesn’t read the news flash and instead of music, he plays a recording of gunshots in a last-minute protest, and this gets him in huge trouble.
Suppression of freedom of expression and of the media is one of the themes that run through the play Radio Play by Amizero Kompagnie in collaboration with Rwandan artists.
It is one of the theatre productions from East Africa and South Africa that were stage played and/or screened at the National Theatre from 26th to 30th November 2014 during the inaugural Kampala International Theatre Festival organized by Sundance Institute East Africa, and Bayimba Cultural Foundation.
Radio Play grips you with its tongue-in-cheek and hilarious approach to laying bare societal ills like the assault on freedoms and the everyday struggles and secrets of married couples and ordinary people in relationships.
One can easily laugh it off when a lady calls Miss Hibu – the presenter of the late night love show – complaining of how she doesn’t have water in the house anymore, and despite her plumber being super at his work, nothing seems to yield.
Miss Hibu then proceeds to counsel her on how she should imagine the days when rain was plenty and she didn’t have to stress about lack of water.
The problem at hand was that the married female caller has been having a problem with lubrication – a thing affecting her sex life with her husband. But the way the story is clothed in innuendos make it decent, highly intelligent and funny to watch.
The other play I watched was Desperate To Fight by Ethiopian Meaza Worku Berehanu and directed by Ugandan Aida Mbowa.
This play tells the story of a three-time divorcee, Marta, who, tormented by the happy life and ‘love sounds’ of a couple living next door, wonders if she should get married for the fourth time. With the biological clock not in her favour, Marta recalls the woes of her past marriages and looks at the future, wondering if marriage is still worth it.
The producers describe the play as a “sophisticated, witty and paradoxical story about relationships, love and marriage from the heart of gender struggles…”
When the curtains fell on National Theatre on November 30th 2014, many a theatre goers must have looked back and nodded at how far theatre production has come.
And when the event goes into its second year on 25th– 29th November, 2015, we can only hope that with more publicity, more people, especially Ugandans, will attend.
Productions featured during the festival
Africa Kills Her Sun (Tanzania)
Black Maria (Kenya)
Desperate To Fight (Ethiopia)
DJ Lwanda (Kenya)
Maria Kizito (Uganda/USA)
Radio Play (Rwanda)
Ster City (South Africa)
Wimbo Wa Nyonga (Tanzania)