“He’s going to be the best looking Santa in Kenya this year!” That was Darren Collins speaking – Darren the magician, the juggler, the stand-up comedian and, above all, the puppeteer.
And he was speaking about Zed, the potter from Kitengela Glass, who last Sunday started his Christmas stint as the Santa Claus at the Garden City Mall.
Now, on this matter Darren has standards. I realised that when I saw his own Santa performance last year at the Hub.
He is a stickler for detail; every bit of his dress has to be right – the red coat, the red hood, the black boots and, especially, the white beard. It all has to look real.
Darren’s Santa has to be one the children can believe in – and some adults too. Darren is the Santa again this year at the Hub.
The other day when he went on a short walk-about to try on his Santa gear, a Chinese lady greeted him with great enthusiasm.
She asked her husband to take a photo. Then she said to Darren, “I’ve never seen you before. I’m so happy to meet you. I received so many presents from you when I was growing up.”
This year, I went to see Zed on the other side of town – at the Garden City Mall. It’s not only that Zed has the right gear for Santa, he has the right face – a kindly avuncular face, with a broad and welcoming smile.
He has broad shoulders, too, and welcoming arms. Zed is a member of a very talented group: Puppets254.
It was formed two years ago as a professional entertainment group that, as its website (puppets.co.ke) tells us, has put together event packages for hire – packages that can include live puppet shows, video productions, educational shows, and many costumed characters.
The group has emerged from organisations and projects that have had a keen social purpose: the Kenya Institute of Puppet Theatre, Newrobi Puppeteers, the Project HAND UP Players, Krystall Puppet Theatre, and some of the men and women who perform for the "XYZ show".
And also for the entertainment events performed by the Puppets254, all profits go toward HIV and Aids and community health education shows that are offered free of charge to schools and orphanages throughout Kenya.
At the Garden City Mall, the members of Puppets254 have taken over a vacant shop close to the main escalator on the ground floor.
The busy elves have a more difficult job than their counterparts at the Hub, where the puppet show and Santa are in open view on the central piazza.
But the elves stroll the floors of the mall with energy and wit, guiding, especially children and their parents, to where they can meet Santa and watch the puppet show.
The show at both venues is a refinement of what the group performed last year. It’s a lively and happy rendition of Christmas carols and themes – suitably Kenyanised. The Bethlehem Boys are back.
Let me give you a flavour of how they have adapted the popular Twelve Days Of Christmas.
The fourth verse of the original carol goes:
On the fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.
It becomes: On the fourth day of Christmas my true love gave to me, four tilapias, three chicken tikkas, two nyama chomas, and a big plate of hot ugali.
Then there is the three piece band of Elvis impersonators who deliver their rendition of "We Three Kings". It’s great stuff. The children love it. And, as I saw last Saturday, the parents love it too.
At both venues, the Hub and the Garden City Mall, the shows will go on every weekend and holidays till Christmas Day.
They are vibrant; they are fun, and they are in the spirit of a Merry Kenyan Christmas.
John Fox is Managing Director of iDC Email: [email protected]