Black Monday was a tumultuous time in the Kenyan history.
On November 16, 1987 the paramilitary police, the GSU and the police broke the barricades that were set along State House Road and stormed into the halls of residence at the University of Nairobi.
Students were protesting the seizure of their colleagues who had been taken away for questioning.
The students and police engaged in fierce battle and there were casualties on both sides.
Many Mondays after that marches were held in peaceful protest against the government’s actions.
Black Monday by Khweva Arts is a play based on this. It was staged in two locations over two weekends, Braeside School and Brookhouse Group of Schools.
Tito (Valiant Waiyaki) is the new student president and is excited to bring change into how the system runs-not just in the University but in the country as well.
He's conflicted because his father is the current Minister of Interior Security and is hell bent on keeping the populace in check by using fear and intimidation.
Tito decides to push back with a peaceful march to State House to press for reforms in how the country is run.
On the other hand, his right hand man Rabala (Rexxie Ndoria) is more interested in maintaining the power they are currently enjoying.
He is weary of Tito’s radical talk; students are getting expelled and disappearing by the day and Rabala wants no part of it.
Selina (Foi Wambui) is the Christian Union chair and also Tito’s girlfriend. She is caught between a rock and a hard place; supporting her boyfriend’s cause for the greater good or leading her members to Christ while giving a wide berth to the liberation movement.
Finally, there is Micere (Serene Ngotho) the leader of the Women’s Association. She is against the idea of the march, as she fears putting the lives of her members in danger.
Her vice chair Gakii (Anne Ogongo) who happens to be Tito’s sister does not hold the same opinion.
She is convinced that joining the cause will translate to the Women’s Association gaining much needed representation in the Student Union.
The play unfolds against this backdrop of fear, tension and young love that comes to a tragic but fruitful end, as this protest among many others led to the dawn of the multi-party system in the year 1992.
The dialogue was engaging and thought provoking, the directing was thoughtful and the acting felt authentic.
My favourite performances were from the supporting actors, namely Rexxie Ndoria who played Rabala and Anthony Miano who played Kombo.
Rabala was the perfect double agent- convincing as many students as he could to join the peaceful march to State House while planning a riot with an undercover group.
His rationale was simple; the only way to make the government sit up and pay attention was to fight fire with fire.
Despite Tito’s insistence on a peaceful march with no intention of student casualties, Rabala was of the opinion that sacrifices have to be made for the greater good.
If that meant blood being spilled, then so be it. Rexxie Kamau gave the perfect balance of humour and depth to his character.
Kombo is the staunch Christian who wants absolutely nothing to do with Tito and his initiative.
When he sees that his chair, Selina is swayed more by the love for Tito than that of Christ he decides to take over the Christian Union’s leadership.
It was easy to dislike Kombo but also sympathise with him. Miano was the perfect embodiment of Kombo, especially in his physical demeanour.
Tito and Selina made all of us nostalgic of our campus relationships.
In as much Tito was the Student President, we could see how he became putty in the hands of Selina.
He knew that she had the power to make or break his campaign and we got to see the struggle that perhaps many great men in his position have faced- the love for his girl versus the love for their country.
Selina represented the kind of Christian who loves God but is fully engaged in the civic process. She was a strong believer that Faith without action is dead.
Micere, the Chair of the Women’s Association would not let her members participate in the march. Her brother had died fighting the police and she was projecting this fear on to her decision.
As much as we, the audience felt that she should get over her fear and do the right thing, her character represented the right we all have to choose.
Her vice chair Gakii gave the counter argument that at times we have to put aside our fears for the greater good. I liked the conflict presented between the two characters.
A great script gives rise to amazing performances and Munene Mwarania did a superb job crafting this story.
Morris Simwa also deserves an honourable mention for his role as Director.
The casting was spot on, scenes were well paced, and the set changes seamless. Keeping the energy up for a show with such a heavy theme is not easy, and the whole cast did a brilliant job on that front.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK
I am not sure whether this was a musical or a play that had music breaks in between.
Even without some of the music, this play would have still done well.
My least favourite bit was Kombo’s song after he impeached Selina as CU Chair.
Behind his disdain for Tito and his activism, all along he was in love with Selina.
His song was his lament about unrequited love. Frankly speaking, I did not enjoy the song.
The play started later than the time indicated on the poster. We then had a 10 minute intermission which meant that the play would ultimately end late.
I had to leave before the play ended; I was not the only one who left. It is common courtesy to keep time, and I think that is a skill that is lacking in most theatre shows.
In the event that the play will run late it would be nice to have the MC apologise; it shows respect for the audience’s time.
Black Monday was a pleasant surprise and an interesting look into the chequered past that has afforded us the freedoms that we currently enjoy as Kenyans. I would give this show a 7/10.