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Saturday, November 1, 2008

Crazy storms


Theatre enthusiasts that were at the National Theatre on Wednesday evening celebrated the 46th Independence anniversary early. On the menu was a free, script-in-hand performance of Crazy Storms, a play by experienced Ugandan actor, director and playwright Philip Luswata.

This script-in-hand phenomenon is new, at least to the local theatre lovers, but the moment the five-member cast led by seasoned actor, Kwezi Kaganda Ruhinda (of Theatre Factory), appeared on stage, and began reading their scripts out loud, the audience were riveted.

It is amazing that in the absence of makeup, costuming and other dramatic effects, the actors could rely on their vocal abilities to convincingly express their strong feelings, fears and vulnerability.

The one-act play is set in a refugee camp, or to bring it closer home, an internally displaced people’s camp, peopled with characters who, driven by the survival instinct, often find themselves in tricky and amusing situations which they try to come out unscathed.

Babadi (Kwezi Kaganda) is a sex-starved, broke and frustrated teacher and a classic voyeur that brags about authority he possesses not and uses self-made pompous titles such as Resident Refuge Camp Officer in Charge and Refugee Internal Affairs and Rules Compliance Supervisor to intimidate others and solicit for sex from ladies, which he never gets by the way. You have to laugh at Babadi’s lasciviousness as he never ceases complaining about the lack of some (sex). With his flaws, Babadi is the fulcrum of the play and vividly brings out the humanity in many a man.

Then there is Munduki (Abu Kawenja) with his fat and protruding belly which betrays his fondness of food. He’s not interested in innuendo; you would think he’s a capon! Spare him the blabber; give him food. When anyone tries to say something, he punches the table: “Shut up!” because all he wants is to eat.

It helped that the script draws from real life experience where, because of poor leadership, people become victims of circumstances as they are torn away from the normal life and end up in refugee camps because of insurrection.

Even in the camps where you expect they would live in harmony as people sharing a common plight, you meet schemers like Maneno (Geresome Mayanja), an unrepentant crook, trickster and schemer who uses carefully planned ruses to enrich himself at the expense of others.

And if you are a young woman that happens to be Sharon (Susan Bamutenda), with all the sexual appeal, you become the object of interest; every lusty male wants a piece of you; you would be harassed into madness but you are a strong character, so you ignore them and try to keep sanity in the camp. She tells a distraught Munduki who has lost his restaurant to a fire: “The most important thing is that you still have life. You can rebuild all that.”

This is the biggest statement in the play; it’s the heart of the play with a concealed message: that suffering or loss is not the end. It implies that however crazy the storms, a man must hold on, stick his chest out and never surrender.

The author mirrors the grim reality of life; the folly and wickedness of humanity, but carefully builds a gripping, optimistic climax as people begin to leave the camp and return home.

The script is a product of the play-devising workshop by Performing Arts Cooperation between Sweden and Eastern Africa and was read live to an audience to “test its intonation and comic relief elements” according to its director, Mr. Richard Kagolobya, a lecturer of drama at Makerere University.

It will be performed at the fifth Eastern Africa Theatre Institute festival in Ethiopia next month before it is brought back home to a real stage performance in different schools and theatre halls around the country.

--Daily Monitor, Saturday, October 11, 2008