(This review appeared in the Sunday Nation on 3rd May 2009)
No Dinner For Sinners opened at the Phoenix Theatre on Saturday 25th April. This is a comedy by Edward Taylor about a young stock exchange geek, Jim Watt (Matayo Mwenesi) who is hosting his morally hard-lined American boss Bill Gregory (David Opondoe) for dinner.
He asks his girlfriend Hellen Foster (Lynda Nyangweso) to pose as his wife because his boss doesn’t approve of unmarried couples living together, but one thing leads to the next and he eventually has to settle for his housekeeper Edna Chapman (Chao Mwatela) to host the evening and all sorts of blunders and embarrassing situations ensue, as is usually the case with this type of comedy.
Gauging from the conversations within the audience before the play started, all (or at least, most) eyes were on Chao Mwatela, whose role as Edna Chapman showed great versatility as an actress. However, the rest of the cast seemed a little bit green, perhaps it was first night nerves, as they seemed to relax into their roles towards the end of the first act.
Going to the Phoenix is often a fine experience. The audience comprises people who dress up to go to the theatre. It makes a nice evening out, with classical music or jazz playing while waiting for the play to start and we don’t have to sing the anthem as is the case in some productions. Instead there is a nice recorded orchestra rendition and all is nice and lovely until the play begins and this is where you have to take in a deep breath, shut your eyes for a few seconds and pretend that you were in London.
The play is hilarious, there’s no doubt about that, but for this, credit goes to the playwright and the cast members. So what then is the role (other than blocking), of the director, Charles Ouda, since he is the one with the “creative vision”?
Does he really have his audience in mind? After all, multiracial as it is, it still is a Kenyan audience. Would the play be any less hilarious if, for example, it was set in Westlands, Nairobi instead of Battersea, London?
Plays that deal with more universal themes will be applicable to any audience, but comedies rarely fit into this category. But I’m not suggesting that a play always has to be adjusted. It’s just that the Phoenix repertoire consists predominantly of British comedies, set in Britain and clattered with British characters, complete with a British accent which all makes it nothing more than a “copy and paste” exercise.
© Anne W. Manyara 2009