Updated: Nov 1, 2019
We saw the first run, here's why it's so damn good and you shouldn't miss the next one
By Mariga Thoithi
“Too Early For Birds is a series of theatrical storytelling productions retelling stories from Kenyan history in a fresh, funky style and from the lens of today’s young generation.” You can watch videos of their previous shows here.
What started off as a risky resignation from their lucrative advertising jobs in 2017, has turned into arguably Kenya’s greatest history lesson on stage. Since 2017, they have retold the stories of Nobel Prize Winner Wangari Maathai; Nyayo House Torture Chamber Survivors, Zarina Patel, and Timothy Njoya; Freedom Fighter Field Marshal Muthoni Wa Kirima; and infamous robbers Wanugu, Wacucu and Rasta, among others.
The last edition was dedicated to a man who was a part of the creation of the nation that is Kenya, Tom Mboya.
Too Early for Bird’s narration of Mboya brought to life the enigma that was Mboya, the politics of power, the elusive fight for freedom and an understanding of what it would take to reimagine our future through his inspiration.
The play explores the man that got letters from Martin Luther King Junior; the man that was friends with Former Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah, Former Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere and the Former American President John F Kennedy.
It starts of with the creation of political context around 1950s Kenya which was around the time of Tom Mboya’s rise to fame. The actors create context around the fight for independence and the political agitation around that and the cracks within the camps agitating for self rule.
The play shows his rise from a Sanitary Inspector in 1950s, from which he converted a staff association into a union, and follows his climb through the political ranks. At his peak we witness him speak at Lancaster House Conferences agitating for Kenya’s independence and giving several speeches in London and Washington lashing out against British atrocities in Kenya during their rule, while additionally advocating for the civil rights movement.
The play flows through independence and his shaping of Kenya’s economic policy and it explores the intricacies of the power fights around running the country that eventually lead to his assassination.
Starting off quietly and building slowly through music and dance, it opens up with a Soliloquy by Mboya, where he reads out his letter from Martin Luther King and later on opens up about his state of mind at the moment.
The lighting remained low throughout the greater portion of the play which worked well as a mood setter and worked well in creating suspense in the story which had lots of twists and turns.
The characters, some more than others, brought history to life with a wide variety of skill and personality, which brought humour to situations that would otherwise be despondent. The star performance and entertainer of the night went to Elsaphan “Balls” Njora who brought the audience to life with his larger than life character encapsulating some of the gutsy moves that characters in the political space at the time made, and the eventual consequences that came about.
The play was done against a lean background of boards with old newspaper cuttings, which served to bring out the timeline of it though a lot more could have been done with it and there’s space to have a more detailed and rustic feel to the mood.
The combined use of music and pop culture references worked well to make the play both current and break the mood and help switch from one scene to another.
The dialogue did however feel like there was an urge to squeeze in as many jokes and cultural references as the writers could put into the play, and at times it felt a little overdone. Additionally, singing parts in some scenes, needed way more effort and perfection to be at par with the outstanding acting.
That aside, the viewer walks away transformed and better for the experience and wiser for the expertly crafted story behind Tom Mboya and his death.
This was a worthy tribute to the man dubbed by Time magazine as “a young man in a hurry” and described by others as the architect of Kenya.
It was a splendid rendition of acting, music and poetry which took us through three decades of mystery, suspense, comedy, drama and tackles the age old question-Who Killed Tom Mboya?
Reactions from the audience
Photography by Marcus Olang', stillsbymarcus.com. Used with permission.