Going to the theatre should be an experience where for a few hours you forget your world; leaving behind all your troubles to commiserate with the characters on stage. It is a sacred space where good stories are told.
The shared experience has different meanings for each audience member and that is what makes it beautiful.
The original idea for this play came from Mbeki Mwalimu who also directed the show.
Her conversations and observations with people about relationships were fodder for the story. She then passed on her ideas to Justin Mirichii and Nick Ndeda who wrote the play. The result was explosive. It sold out on opening night. This being their first production of 2019, the bar has been set pretty high.
Considering that Back to Basics launched last year, they have been pretty consistent with the work they put out. The stories are not run-of-the-mill drama or comedy; rather they have been written in such a way that the audience journeys with the characters on stage. Thought-provoking, shocking and sobering is what I would say about them.
Freefall was a crowd favourite because the theme was relationships - something we can all relate to. There were three couples: Alice and Henry (Wakio Mzenge and Nick Ndeda), George and Jo (Tim King’oo and Daisy Temba), Connie and James (Mary Mwikali and Bruce Makau). They had all come to seek help from a therapist played by the audience.
The first couple deal (not so well) with the loss of their baby. Alice is suicidal and Henry frustrated because whatever the therapist recommends doesn’t seem to work.
The two took us on a rollercoaster of pain and anguish, constantly hoping that Alice would not give up and Henry’s resilience would save the marriage, if only for our sake. One never knew what Alice would say or do next, it was beautiful torture to watch.
George and Jo are that couple who have been together so long they are practically married. Except they are not. Against societal expectation, Jo (short for Joanne) is a woman who is not interested in formalizing their union. George cannot understand why she would turn him down, especially after planning an epic proposal.
She is fine with things as they are - he wants progress. It was delicious to see the tables turned; give the guys a taste of their own medicine.
Finally Connie and James show up. Connie is more concerned with her work than her marriage and seemingly unable to shut up. Her husband resorts to chatting up a stranger online which ticks off all the boxes for emotional cheating. Riveting stuff.
What the audience loved most was the story. The realness of it all made it easy to identify with the characters. The dialogue sounded believable and the highs and lows were carefully crafted. Mbeki employed exits, entrances and freezes masterfully; the execution was brilliant. The actors’ movement was intentional and it helped that the set design supported that.
I found Wakio and Nick (Alice and Henry) the strongest couple. They surrendered themselves fully to their characters and their synergy was undeniable. Mwikali was fire on that stage, giving life and meaning to her character. One couldn’t help but like her.
FAILED TO DELIVER
Rather disappointing was Tim and Daisy. While their dialogue was written in such a flavourful manner, they failed to deliver. Tim, whom I have watched in a number of productions, seems to have taken a rather laissez faire approach to his performance. It didn’t work for him on this stage. Daisy, who was supposed to have the upper hand in this scene, was flat in her delivery. Considering how much room they had to play, their performance was rather underwhelming.
Back to the first couple, Alice and Henry’s tale ends tragically. Alice, who walked in looking expectant, had actually stuffed a scarf to mimic a pregnancy.
Her trigger to go ‘off herself’ was when Henry pulled out the fake pregnancy and exposed her. While I know we are living in the suspension of disbelief, there is a thin line that one must not cross. In this instance, a trained therapist who “comes highly recommended” would not watch a patient display clear signs of suicidal tendencies and leave them to their own devices. The therapist in this story failed the patient and that is very hard to reconcile in the mind of the audience.
Another glaring question in the second story was James’ limp. Was it a foot injury or a pre-existing condition? It was so glaring that we were all waiting to hear the story behind it. It never came.
Dangling a carrot that significant is unfair especially if you’re not planning to reward us with disclosure. Also, it felt like James’ issues in the relationship were never addressed.
Connie got away with putting all the blame on her husband while her role in the disagreement was not acknowledged. Yes, he ended the affair, but was there more that could have been explored? Therapy is never one-sided, yet this is what was displayed. Their happy ending as well felt rushed and almost forced.
When all is said and done though, it was a really good show. I give it a 7/10.