By Abdi Ali
Published April 30, 2017
A stage play based on the terrorist attack on a Nairobi mall goes on a southern African tour in May 2017.
The play, A Man Like You, is inspired by the Westgate Mall tragedy of September 23, 2013 in which Somalia’s Al Shabaab terrorist group opened fire on shoppers, killing at least 67 people. The play is written and directed by Nairobi-born Silvia Cassini who says it explores themes such as what makes a terrorist, the danger of stereotyping individuals or groups and good and evil, and the futility of War.
Theatre lovers in Nairobi have the opportunity to watch A Man Like You, a conversation between a British hostage and his Somali captor, set in a windowless concrete room in Somalia, at Braeburn Theatre in Lavington Green on May 2 and 3 before it goes to Harare International Festival of Art (May 6-7) and Theatre in the Park (May 9-11) in Zimbabwe and The Theatre Arts Admin Collective in Cape Town, South Africa (May 14-20).
That A Man Like You has had nine sold out performances in Nairobi, 15 shows off Broadway in New York, won Best Actor and Best Tragedy awards at Sanaa Theatre Awards in Nairobi and is going on southern African tour may sound like too good a dream to be true for a play born “in the home of a very ordinary mum in Kenya”, as Cassini puts it.
A Man Like You is the story of two idealistic headstrong men–Patrick North, a British diplomat and hostage, and Abdi, a Somali kidnapper–in which each man defends his worldview in an exposé of extremism, politics and religion.
The windowless concrete room in Somalia where North is imprisoned is the setting for the conversations he has with Abdi, which raises questions about the nature of radicalisation, the flaws of differing cultures, and the similarities between them, as people.
The cell scene is intercut with a scene in North’s home in Nairobi, where his wife, Elizabeth, fights for his freedom while she deals with the reality that he may never return.
The cast includes Zimbabwean actor Kevin Hanssen as Patrick North, Mike Kudakwashe as Abdi, Davina Leonard as Elizabeth and Kevin Amwoma as the sinister Hassan.
“The staging of the play for its new tour will, however, be completely different from the original, giving it a new look and a totally fresh feel,” Cassini says. “Each new production of this play should be a clean experience, not just for the audience but for everyone involved. I have no interest in doing the same thing twice; change is what keeps us relevant and growing.”
So what does it take for a playwright to succeed?
“Reading,” Cassini says. “Read classic plays, read modern plays and read books about writing. Read about the hero’s journey, about plot, about character arc, about theme. In short, research the techniques of writing that all authors use to bring their stories to life. Like a mechanic studies engines before being able to make one run smoothly, I think it is a fallacy to think you will just pick up and write a good story without knowing anything about the basic structures of writing. Doing a little research before you start can save you hundreds of wasted hours. Other than that just turn up at the page (setting aside pre-destined time helps), switch off the ‘judge’ button and immerse yourself in the story. If you can truly BE your character while you write you will find their voice will be that much more authentic.”
Meanwhile, lovers of dance shall on May 6, 2017 be treated to a ‘Traditional Future Dance’ at Alliance Française in Nairobi. Here, Fernando Anuang’a,a self taught Kenyan dancer and choreographer who says he is inspired by Maasai songs and ancestral memory, shall at 4:00 PM–through dance–demonstrate ‘how to evolve Tradition towards Modernity without obliterating his tracks, without betraying his roots’.
Anuang’a’s dance movements are said to be informed by Maasai rhythmic vocals. He transforms the age-old undulating movement into a work of art that will stand the test of time.
Fernando Anuang’a’s show, ‘Traditional Future’, was created at the Studio Akili in Lamu and produced by Pierre Cardin, a fashion designer. It has been shown at the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris, France, and at the Theatre Cucinelli in Solomeo, Italy.