Breathe; Stories by Jackson Biko

From the moment I came across the poster, it was a certainty that I had to attend Breathe and so, on Sunday quarter to 3 thereabouts, I diligently walked to Alliance Française for the penult show. How do I tell you how much pleasure the cast gave me that afternoon? Or how much more interested I am now in the details concerning all that Biko has been through? It is my assumption that you all read, or have read, Jackson Biko’s blog, https://www.bikozulu.co.ke. The fact is that the written works of Jackson Biko entertain as much as they inspire.

A few minutes past 3 and we were asked to rise, as is customary in Kenyan theatre, to sing the national anthem at the start of the play which opened with a monologue from one of the shared voices – Gilbert Lukalia. Thereafter, the setting changed to a room with all shared voices present and it is here that the action really began.

The multi-talented cast of 9 all of whom impersonated Biko impressed me. Each of their individual performances added up to more than the sum of what I expected. I imagine that, like me, some of you are easily prompted by feelings and are thus eternally grateful for stage managers throwing the switch. My poor, by the time we were halfway through, I was a teary mess! The best ‘lol’ of the day came at the end of the performance when they goofed on the photo sessions in Kikuyu burials and the inflation of Luo burials; yes, sometimes death does give us a certain parodic dimension which advances to us our peculiar attitudes and habits towards it.

Rolling in one after another, the cast animated a number of selected stories: Mary Mwikali and Wakio Mzenge powerful relayed to us the sinister coldness of cancer in Pray for Jane and Mommy Will Be Just Fine. Wanjiku Mburu adapted Nobody Wins highlighting the incredible ‘complexity’ of a man and his drink and one of whose character, Mad Larry, forms the basis of Biko’s Drunk. Martin Githinji took us through A Long Post About Life with great hilarity while Nick Ndeda and Mwaura Bilal, in a highly engaging sense of melodrama, brought the intensely dramatic Just Friends to life.

Truly, Gilbert Lukalia was a revelation! This was my first time experiencing him on stage and while it is not necessary that I underline the intensity of what he did to me, his was a vivid portrait strongly projected particularly in his especial dramatization of Bradley. Here, I can add that what Gilbert did constituted the principle of a true thespian – confident, expressive, intelligent and, I believe, introspective.

Lastly, if it is your job, as I have made it mine, to have opinions about music and are worried about airs that cause you more distress than pleasure, say for instance your enthusiasm wears thin at the incoherent blabber of trap, then I have excellent news! The background music was on point with all pieces in the repertoire doing a mighty fine job of steering the act through. Three cheers for the staging’s music supervisor.

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In what esteem do I hold Back 2 Basics who did an excellent job of managing my expectations? Breathe felt as playful as it was melancholic and where this was a theme of loss and, perhaps reflecting on death, it was also about the importance of confrontation; a condition that has to be met by those who want to win in life.

*Disclaimer: Not everything lends itself to description; what I’ve written is but a superficial account of what transpired. Where I failed to make a great impression, I regret you’ll have to imagine it for yourselves. As for me, I came, I saw, I will come some more.

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