This is a review of TEFB’s Tom Mboya Edition that went down Saturday 5th October 2019
A damaging political climate between the 1950s and 70s culminated in a number of infamous assassinations. So, when the Too Early for Birds team returned to the stage this past weekend, they brought with them one of these fascinating histories – the production of an assassination that is perhaps Kenya’s greatest mystery yet.
The team conceived of their setting in memoriam Tom Mboya at a time when Kenyans are living out a series of national dramas to the tune of The Drunkard, Grand Theft Ruto, Mega Scandal among others. Would Tom, one of Kenya’s most gifted sons, have changed our country and its systems? We will never know. Thomas Joseph Mboya died on 5th July 1969.
Having watched and loved one of their shows last year, I was keen to make their acquaintance again. They did not disappoint and I liked their latest edition for several reasons. Admirable and well researched, the anthology was directed by Mugambi Nthiga and produced by Gathoni Kimuyu. The show was delivered by a versatile ensemble of actors who helped us retain a sense of place and timing through TJ’s life’s moments.
The staging consisted of a screen on which a couple of videos played. In addition, was a lining of prop boards on which, plastered, were newspaper cuttings featuring the late Mboya. Each act had the same fundamental setting. This was only spruced up every once in a while and on a different scale. The narration was, overall, a strong one as was the interweaving music through which I sat with my eyes closed and taken out of myself.
There were a number of arresting moments especially struck by Mercy Mutisya, Elsaphan Njora and Pauline Kyalo all of whom had a great ability to leverage on stillness. In addition, Anubhav Garg may have taken some time to settle into his role but once he did, he proceeded to offer a performance of considerable admiration.
Still, there were some weaknesses. In an attempt to drive my point home, it is that too many cooks spoil the broth. Firstly, there were simply too many narrators who in turn had a downturn in the show’s pacing. Clocking three hours, this was a long show and it certainly felt it.
Secondly, there was an overcharge of puns and an over reliance of internet jokes. It may be that this affected my experience owing to the fact that puns should really not be rehearsed.
Third, is that some sections dragged on for far too long and in other sections, the intrigue wasn’t sufficiently built. By the time the show ended, I had a heightened sense of impatience. Needless to say, the show started 45 minutes late and the check-in desk was a mess with few attendants.
I have since turned Tom Mboya’s fate over and over in my in mind; he has stayed with us as a tragic symbol of a time when politics was a theatre of cruelty. Under the circumstances, I am grateful that we have had brave enough a people who have stood up for what was right. Thomas Joseph Odhiambo Mboya was one such person.
Finally, I credit the TEFB team for making me realize that theatre in Kenya is coming of age.