Twilight Robbery at KNT: The Shameful Desecretion of Theatre by Culture Spill Productions

Written by Oluoch Madiang’
I will try and be very kind and considerate to Culture Spill Productions in this critique of ‘their’ Luo-language play, “Mbuta Rairi Chielore Gi More”, ( Literal Luo translation is roughly, ‘A Huge Nile Perch Fries In It’s Oil) performed at the Kenya National Theatre from 6:29 p.m. to 8:43 p.m. on 4th March, 2011.
Ola Rotimi: (Source: Ola Rotimi Foundation)
At the onset, we must call out Culture Spill Productions for infringing on Ola Rotimi’s copyright to his play, OUR HUSBAND HAS GONE MAD AGAIN, first performed in 1966 at the Yale School of Drama and first published in 1977. Prof. Olawale Gladstone Emmanuel Rotimi (a.k.a. Ola Rotimi)’s play about Lejoka-Brown, the soldier with many wives and his ill-fated quest for a political post was simply translated into Dholuo by this band of pseudo-thespians who then passed the play across as a piece of their creative genius. At the introduction of the performance and at it’s curtain fall, no acknowledgement whatsoever was made of the fact that this was someone else’s play. In fact, the promotional narrative of the play by Culture Spill Productions was, and I quote:
No Acknowledgements: Plagiarism!
“Mbuta Rairi Chielore Gi Moye!” is the name of this hilarious Dholuo play directed by the one and only Jalango and presented by Culture Spill Productions. A Slice of Life portrayal of a cultural complication, this play tells the story of Sharon, a clever and well educated lady who falls upon an unfortunate situation as she returns to Kenya to find her husband, an ex-military veteran dubbed Major, now married to two more wives. Drama and hilarity ensues as Major attempts to enforce his militaristic will and methodologies to tame the venom brewing between his three wives in an attempt to mend fences and return sanity back to his household. As expected, things don’t quite go according to plan…”
This is how Culture Spill desecrated theatre. Shame!
This shameless robbery and conning of the audience and fans of this group of masqueraders must be condemned. It is abominable that a whole lot of theatre lovers paid Kshs. 500/- to promote and appreciate this group’s acting, not knowing that they in fact were being taken for a ride. Steve Ogana and Felix Odiwuor (a.k.a. Jalang’o), the acknowledged ‘directors’ of this plagiarized production must be ashamed of this behavior and be called to account. It is utterly disgusting that supposed national comedy heroes are so lacking in originality, imagination and creativity that they resort to stealing others’ works and passing them as their own. It is even criminal that the said celebrated ‘icons’ of Kenyan and Luo comedy can engage in such thievery in broad daylight, assuming that their audience are so daft and misinformed that they won’t notice the stark conman-ship. Surely, these hoaxers must be named and shamed. Surely, it is disrespectful, insulting and belittling to lovers of art and theatre. Surely, again, action must be taken against these racketeers. Against Steve Ogana and Felix Odiwuor.
The intro was done well…until men came!
I am sure that alive, Ola Rotimi (1938-2000) would not object to the translation and performance of his popular play. I am equally sure that he would certainly encourage acknowledgements and honesty were such an endeavor be undertaken. I have taken the liberty to call out these swindlers from Culture Spill Production by writing to Kenya Cultural Centre (KCC), the administrators of the Kenya National Theatre, to seek protection as a consumer of the content that is delivered in their space. At the bare minimum, KCC must put into place a system that ensures that fraudsters do not use their space to cheat, steal and lie! I await their response.
We must henceforth proceed in the knowledge that Culture Spill Productions were not presenting an original work: they stole someone’s work and hoped not to be caught! This dishonesty aside, I must now look at their production as an adaptation of Ola Rotimi’s “Our Husband Has Gone Mad Again”.
Meja sweats profusely after 20 minutes, colleague drinks water.
Culture Spill Productions primarily targets a Luo-speaking/understanding audience. This explains the choice of language used in their translation. Simply, Culture Spill has a wealth of Luo-speakers and their translation may well be a good foundation in promoting this language. Considering that most Kenyan languages are not ‘properly’ rendered by even native speaker, Culture Spill’s translation may rightly be used as a medium for learning and re-learning Luo. Of course there were challenges they faced e.g. translating the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) as Ward Mak’ende. Probably ‘od thieth mak’ende’ would have been closer. That notwithstanding, I think that Culture Spill took well the opportunity to enrich the Luo language. Such attempts at naming and describing contemporary things and occurrences is commendable. This effort at making Luo speakers understand the experiences of the wide world in their own tongue was effective and appreciated by the audience.
The ODM/Raila route was used well to laugh at Luo politics.
The choice of the Luo audience also meant that Culture Spill adopted the play in the context of Luo mannerisms, stereotypes, culture and ‘stupidities’. Having interpreted the play politically, Culture Spill made a laugh at Luo’s concentration with politics, as expounded in the line, ‘…siasa e ma odago wa e piny ni’, literally, we Luos live for politics! Inevitably, Raila and ODM were weaved into the drama. Nevertheless, there seemed to be over-concentration on the politics of Raila so much so that one felt that the adaptation veered widely out of the acceptable boundaries of Ola Rotimi’s play. This then led to an unnecessary and circuitous plot that must have lengthened the play badly. In a way, it seemed as if the players got an opportunity to take over the National Theatre and paint it Luo. Of course in the midst of their translation, it seemed at some point as if the whole production turned into a silly cutting-and-pasting of internet jokes. Of course this was hilarious to some, but boring to Facebookians and the internet savvy. The lament about Tom Mboya’s statue was refreshing though:
        “You can’t place chicken at the feet of Mboya, place fish!
        You can’t place stones near Mboya, give him a Range Rover Sport to lean on!
        Mboya shouldn’t be pointing at Ambassador Hotel, he should be pointing at Hilton!”
Catchy phrases like the strategy of ‘buogo gi rodho’ (Scare then Whip) were catchy and memorable.
On the whole the translation captured the intended set and context that Ola Rotimi had in his play. It helped the Luos to laugh at themselves, at their follies, at their cultural stupidity. Via the translation,  it was easy to see the original play in this rendition. The instances when the directors sought to blur off Ola Rotimi were not of any use.
Violence versus acting…
The acting by Culture Spill Production was horrendous. Foul even! The actors expended their energy stomping across the stage, moving without the benefit of good direction, shouting themselves hoarse and engaging in dangerous stage spectacles, so much so that one feared for them. At times it was difficult to hear the actors or even understand them as they seemed to rush towards delivering lines that they thought were hilarious and would generate laughter. Actors too were not able to manage the audience laughter with their pace of performance and as such talked through laughs thus not communicating anything.
Note the poor, live chicken?
There was dangerous handling of props use on stage. At one point Meja’s (Ola”s Lejoka-Brown) machette slipped of his hand and fell just short of the audience eliciting gasps and shock. The handling of the live chicken on stage was not good for acting. They were yanked from their tether and handled roughly. The stomping on the wooden KNT floor suggested that the actors had not mastered how to reconcile their noise generation with helpful enunciation.
Meja’s panga before it flew towards us!
But by far, the most disgusting was the violence, roughness and energy expending that was disguised as acting. Barely 20 minutes into the play. Meja was sweating profusely while his lieutenants gasped for air and water. The young actors seemed to enjoy more their energy than the play. The quest to spur laughter also seemed to make the actors render spectacles rather than work through generating comedy. Evidently, the actors did not understand Ola Rotimi’s build-ups that generated laughter.
I commend Nyakamagambo (holding planks);
The only person who depicted acting was the lady that acted as Nyakamagambo. In fact, only the three ladies who acted as Meja’s wives are worthy of being referred to as thespians. Nyakamagambo took her lines judicially, acted for effect and spoke for mood and attitude. She understood the tone of the play and rendered it well. Her relationship with the stage and props was superb. She did convince me of being a veteran performer. I would recommend her any time. The lady that acted as Selli was hampered by a lack of voice modulation and judicious stage use. She was irritatingly loud at some point and jumpy, seeming to only crave ‘all-action’ moments. The American-trained wife concentrated too much on her body and physical appeal and seemed to become a spectator at times. Yet, these three were the only actors of note.
Enter the pretenders to theatre: Anyone needs watchmen?
The rest, need very much think seriously of looking for another craft to engage in. They would best fit in manual work, something that requires raw energy and less thinking. Their acting was monotonous and boring. Meja kept scratching his head and exclaiming, running up and about the stage and generally looking foolish. His lieutenants enjoyed eating on stage and harassing their co-‘actors’. Using more space to write about any other actor would be a travesty!
A parade of swindlers…a shame to theatre and acting.
Of course the fact that this team did not acknowledge their sources rendered this a heinous case of plagiarism. I don’t stand theft of intellectual property at all. I feel cheated and will pursue these crooks as far as I can. Culture Spill Productions’ Luo-language play, “MBUTA RAIRI CHIELORE GI MOYE” is a complete con, an insult to theatre goers and not worth watching at all. It is all a depiction of chaos on stage by a poor collection of clueless actors, a regurgitation and repetition of old jokes, a senseless spectacle cobbled together as a great comedy by fraudsters and a showcase of impatient play-production with the aim of making a quick buck. You will feel cheated after watching this hogwash. Do not go for it. Do not waste your money on it! This play is not worth Kshs. 500/-, it is worth a beating…and I am only being lenient to this troupe!

Author: Faith Oneya

Lover of the written and spoken word.

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