Last weekend, Uganda’s only National Theatre was the venue for Charles Mulekwa’s comeback project, Man to Man, an ode to friendship.
It was a quieter affair than the previous two weeks when the show played out at the Ndere Centre on the banks of Kampala City, where the show had premiered.
In fact, this was one of the very many shows that have always chosen to premiere elsewhere before going to the National Theatre.
For example, previously, The Merchant of Venice and My Fair Lady premiered at Kampala Serena before moving to the National Theatre. Karen Hasashya Kimuli, while talking to the weekly X, formerly Twitter Art Space, said the reason to open shows at Serena is mainly to invite a group of people that wouldn’t come to the theatre to see the show in a way they are comfortable with.
But of course, shows at Kampala Serena usually have a glamorous red carpet that you will not find at the National Theatre.
For Mulekwa’s Man to Man, it may have been for a couple of reasons; for instance, at the Tebere Arts Foundation, the show producers have their offices at Ndere Centre, and probably for them, the show was home.
Man to Man, starring Amon Nuwamanya and Bryan Powers Byamukama in the titular roles, explores friendships in ways we rarely talk about.The play opens with Rukia (played by Daisy Phiona Owomugisha and Patience Hellen Nakamanya), a devoted Muslim, going through her prayers.
But then Job (Byamukama) walks in, and after a little exchange, he tries to leave for the bar. By this time, a number of things have been established, Job and Rukia are in a toxic relationship; she doesn’t trust him, and he tries to keep his distance from her by hanging out in the bar.
Somebody Was Looking For You, the first act, is mostly about Job trying to go to the pub and the wife stopping him. But don’t be misled; there’s a lot in the scene that explains why, for the couple, the pub is more than just a place to enjoy a drink.
Man to Man is a brilliantly woven story that questions the person watching the show in many ways. It questions one’s beliefs about friendships and then questions the nature of friendships we have with the people we call friends. Are they the people we can get sick with, rely on in a hard time, or are they the kind that will buy you a beer when you’re already high but won’t contribute to a hospital bill to repair the liver?
There are many questions in the story that gives us Job and Rukia in the first act – a toxic marriage that the two have managed to contain under all circumstances. It’s not a marriage for convenience, but a friendship that became a marriage and later hit a dead end.
The two seem to be tired of each other, but deep down, they still care about each other. Job loves the bar, but he will listen when the wife threatens to live, while the wife doesn’t want him out of the house because she believes if he lives, he will go missing, just like in the old days.
Rukia’s fears in the opening scene are the underbelly of the story – it is a main theme that wasn’t announced, politics and how it affects even those that try to be apolitical.
On the surface, Man to Man is a play about friendship between a man and his wife, yet it is also a very political drama that talks about the insecurities of those in power while mirroring the trials of the people they lead.
And as the play goes on from one act to the next, we learn more about Job and the people he thought he knew. We are shocked with him. Sadly, learning about the reasons he was betrayed breaks both the audience and the people that share the scene with him.
But we see the extent of his breakdown as we move into the final act, – technically the most important act of the entire show. For any Ugandan that watched the show, there was a lot to reflect on in terms of how the scenes have played out in real life in people’s homes.
In more than one way, the fourth act, where Job goes through the trauma of being tortured, makes a case for the many tortured victims we have. It makes sense for them to be hungry and abusive at times.
It was hard going through the scenes without thinking about people such as Kakwenza Rukirabashaija and probably understanding why they write the way they do.
It makes you ask yourself if, like Job, a new and damaged person left the cells, leaving the old innocent soul in those torture chambers.
Man to Man, written by Charles Mulekwa opened at Ndere Cultural Center, in Kampala on July 28th before moving to the National Theatre for the final shows. Man to man was directed by Amelia Mbotto Kyaka and produced by Tebere Arts Foundation.