Man to Man is a beautiful play to watch at the theater

A couple of weeks ago, I went to the theater. I think this was the first time in a long, long while. I last went around March, to LaBonita, for a stand-up comedy thing which I did not really enjoy. I think I laughed only once, but the joke was forgettable. The last good theater I remember came before Covid, in Philip Luswata’s rendition of Thirty Years of Banana, so I was anxious to again feel what good theater is like, and I was pleasantly rewarded when I watched Man to Man. The show continues this weekend, 18th – 20th August 2023, at the National Theater in Kampala, so you have a chance to catch it. (oh, by the way, this is not a paid post! I’m just writing about something I enjoyed and think you should go watch it!)

A poster for a theater play in Kampala, showing at Ndere Center and at The National Theater
A poster for the play, Man to Man, by Charles Mulekwa

The title is deceptive. I was skeptical about watching a play with a title that’s a little bit bland, and doesn’t really tell me what to expect. It felt like something you’d find a textbook. But seeing the people behind it convinced me to go and give it a look. Tebere Arts Foundation have built a reputation of curating good plays, and the effort they put into training emerging artists pays off with the quality of the productions. Their name alone convinced me to go and watch this, for I was sure it would be an evening well spent.

I watched the play at Ndere Center, which has a beautiful theater and it’s sad that not so many plays are put up here. Last year, Tebere put up a show at Goethe and it was not a pleasant experience, for the venue was horrible, at the basement, with a generator drowning out the voices of the actors and it ruined what would have been a beautiful theater experience, so it was encouraging to see them stick to traditional theater spaces this time round.

About the writing

Why did I like Man To Man? It’s a great story. The script is beautifully written, with witty dialogue, and I can easily see this going down as a classic. It’s the first work of Charles Mulekwa that I’m experiencing, and I’m surprised I’m not aware of more of his writing. I’ve known him as an actor, and he perhaps is one of the most respected actors in Uganda, but I never saw this side of him and I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the script.

The story starts like an ordinary lover’s fight, and then somewhere down the road, you don’t know how, it takes a twist and by the end, you are left marveling at the ingenuity of the writer in tackling such an important, and very heavy, subject within the frame of a quarrel between a husband and a wife. I’ll spoil it for you a great deal if I tell you what the gist of the play is, because the beauty of it is in the actors peeling the layers of the story with the dexterity of a chef preparing for you gonja….(I don’t know what I’m talking about, but I wanted some kind of metaphor to put in here and this one sounded like a good idea).

It was hard for me to place the genre. It’s a literary piece, for sure, given the way the story is handled. At heart, its a story about friendship, and also about marriage. But it could as well be a comedy (or perhaps a dark comedy is a more suitable tag) for it has a lot of witty dialogue and memorable lines, and you’ll have a good many laughs. And it could also be a political thriller, a commentary on the recent political events in Kampala.

About the acting (and finding actors on stage)

Oh, the acting is mesmerizing. It has one of my favorite actors in Uganda, Amon Nuwamanya, and whenever I see him in a show I’m sure to get a good laugh. He has a natural ability with comedy. I first saw him in Red Hills and I thought I should work with him someday. We eventually worked together in The Kojja, a TV Show that ran on PearlMagicPrime, and he brought the characters to life.

In this show, I did see a lot of actors I can work with in future, and surely, when I get the opportunity, I’ll be making phone calls to find their numbers. Some of the recent main cast of my shows came from me watching them in theater. I first saw Tania Shakira in Zisanze (or is it Zansanze, that name never quiet settled in my tongue and I keep missing it) and I liked her performance. I remember her crying a lot, but it was believable. She too was in The Kojja, and she gave life vibrancy to her character.

With Suubi Nalwanga, I first watched her in Thirty Years of Banana, and she blew me away, and then about a year later when I was looking for cast for Mama and Me, I called Philip and told him, “there was that girl in a green shirt, what’s her number?”

I met John Wayne Muganza (RIP) in a similar way. I first saw him in a production of Namasagali Old Boys, perhaps in 2012 or 2013, and i thought he was a good one to work with, and we worked together in two shows, Love Makanika (2015) and Mama and Me (2021)

So well, I like going to the theater to see actors, and productions like this make my work a bit easy (and also harder because next time I have a role, I’ll be spoilt for choice!

A scene from a play in Kampala, 30 Years of Banana, by Philip Luswata, showing three actresses on a stage.
A scene from the play, 30 Years of Banana

A blog post I abandoned a few years ago reviewing plays in Ugandan theater

A few years ago (I think this was 2019, and its shocking that this is already ‘a few years ago’), before Covid, I started to write a blog post titled “Reviews of Plays I watched This Year”, but something distracted me and I never got round to publishing it. Then I came to write this one about Man to Man, and I found the old post languishing in the drafts. I’m not sure of some of the things I wrote back then, but I’ll hit the publish button. I think these were from facebook posts I made right after watching the plays, and so I’ll leave them here as is. I still recall some of the plays, while others, well, I have no clue what it was about. Like one title “Harriet”, I should ask Gdah if she remembers acting in that one since I mention her as a star in it.

Last night at Design Hub was an evening well spent watching Asiimwe’s play Red Hills. I was pleasantly surprised by what kind of play it was. First time I was experiencing it! If I tell you I spoil the surprise. I went in a little skeptical, since it is a story we think we have heard a million times, but this one tackles the theme “who should tell this story?” and it is a direct critic of white privilege and fake white trauma and how white vultures profit from the tragedies in Africa. This way, it was a refreshing perspective, and the performance by Nuwamanya make it a memorable play. (He is an actor to watch, hopefully I’ll work with him someday) The play seems to be a response to that by a white savior type called Dogs of Rwanda. We need more such plays until other people stop telling our stories purely for profit. Aganza great production! It’s nice to witness your growth in the arts ;-)) The music was amazing, it served the play very well, and now that I’ve seen two of Deborah’s plays where she uses music so effectively, I’m beginning to wonder if its the musicians or the director 😁 Great job Deborah!!

August 2019

At least the poets in Gulu are not shouting. The performances are tame, but this Panda woman did a good job with a sweet piece. I could watch more of her :-)) And then there is Normis with a real sad one. Beautiful performance. (I think this was a poetry show in Gulu)

22nd July 2019

I watched Niqabi Ninja over the weekend and I must say Rehema your performance was beautiful, as usual, and it made the play enjoyable and memorable, though its about a subject I was familiar with. Very well done! Artiste Kasozi Kasozi great music Shakirah good job, and Adong you did a great job putting this thing up!

Niqabi Ninja shows again this weekend.

17th July 2019

Who told Ugandan poets that they have to shout while performing? Its like if they don’t shout then its not a good show. (I remember this one. A poetry show at Goethe Zentrum. I couldn’t watch more than the first two because all the poets seemed to be shouting)

7th July 2019

Finally, I watched Thirty Years of Banana, and oh my. Philip Luswata did a good job of bringing it back on stage. He gives a great performance that left us all laughing heartily, I did not expect it to be a comedy, but it is, and a very good one.

I like the new space Playright’s Playhouse, and I would love to see more plays there. It is unlike traditional theater, makes you feel part of the play in a way.

Only downside, I don’t know if this is official policy, tickets go for 30k but the guy at the gate offered to let me in without a ticket, if only I paid him 10k. He claimed a lot of people had gotten in this way, slipping him a 10k and not getting a ticket. I told him I was there to support the place…..? (I later learned that it was an official policy, since it can be quiet hard to pull audiences to the theater in Kampala, especially if its a play in English. With Luganda, there is a already a huge theater going culture, but those of us who don’t speak Luganda, or can’t follow a conversation without a translator, well, we can’t attend those great theater pieces.)

June 29 2019

Harriet show last night, the most beautiful I have seen in a long while, maybe ever. She took me through many emotions in one hour, love, humor, sadness, it was just wow. Well done Deborah Gdah Omara and everyone else I can’t tag who made it such a memorable show. You made my weekend!

The show continues today at the National Theater. 6pm. I have one unused ticked. Oba who should I give it to? (This is the play I can’t remember, perhaps the title was not ‘Harriet’ but something else)

Green Chilli

A bore. (Oh, this was such a boring play!)

1st June 2019

The Bethrotal

This was a good play, a vast improvement from last year’s performance. Always nice and refreshing to sit in a theater and enjoy a well put together production. Nice one Aganza and Patriq, you did a good job…. but I would love to see this play in a local language. It would take the energy a notch up 🙂

The noticeboard at National Theater, Kampala, advertising two shows, two weekends in a row.

Banange, what is happening with our national theater? I am shocked that there are two plays running, back to back weekends, and didn’t I just watch another play a few weeks back? I wonder if management changed oba what? Anyway they have my money 😊

24th May 2019

I just watched the most awful dance performance ever, these people think just because they can move their bodies mbu they can dance. Complete waste of time. (Another show at Goethe. It was awful)

29 April Zansase 2019

The show last night was worth it, at least they put a lot of effort into the production and it paid off. There was humor, I laughed though I was determined to keep a straight face, and great performances from Diana, Monica, Bwanika, Nkakalukanyi, Dolly, Ronnie, Laura, and all other actors I couldn’t recognize. It was a little too long, 4hrs!!!, and mostly because it relied too much on improvisation, hence the actors sometimes went on and on about the same thing, making scenes thrice longer than necessary, but well, the audience stayed to the end, till midnight, which is a good sign. We need more plays like this #zanzase

A scene from a play at the National Theater in Kampala, in 2019, showing four actresses on a stage.
A scene from the play, Zisanse, at the National Theater, Kampala, April 2019

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