August 20, 2022

Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s most controversial play is set to be staged in Kenyan theatres after over three decades of being forbidden.

The celebrated writer and scholar’s play I Will Marry When I Want was produced in 1977 but later banned by founding President Jomo Kenyatta after just six weeks of being staged.

The play, which was co-written by Ngugi wa Mirii and Ngugi wa Thiong’o, was prohibited in Kenya following what was termed as the portrayal of post-colonial struggles.

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Prolific Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o in a library

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It is also believed to have been the cause of Miiri and Thiong’o’s arrests in December 1977 under the regime of Kenya’s first president. 

The two were later released in December 1978 when President Daniel Moi took over after the death of Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, but both fled into exile with Miiri seeking refuge in Zimbabwe and Ngugi in the UK then to the US. During this time, Moi had lifted the ban that had been set by the founding president.

The play was banned again in 1990. The play is set to portray a colonial era to a whole new generation which might not have experienced it.

The play’s comeback in the theatres in June 2020 is spearheaded by Nairobi Performing Arts Studios. The play is expected to be on set in Nakuru County.

Nash Stuart, the Nairobi Performing Arts Studio director, speaking to Saturday Standard stated that they were currently casting and everything was in place for the launch.

“For the first time in 30 years, the play will be staged at the Kenya National Theatre. We are currently doing the casting. It will also mark the first time the play will be staged in English,” Nash Stuart.

The play was, however, banned by authorities for the alleged portrayal of post-colonial struggles that harmed citizens during the reigns of the two presidents, Kenyatta and Moi

The play depicts the betrayal of the rich aspirations Kenyans had as the country gained independence only for everything to turn out unexpectedly. 

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President Uhuru Kenyatta shares a light moment with famous writer Ngugi wa Thiong'o

President Uhuru Kenyatta (left) chats with renowned writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o during the re-opening of Kenya National Theatre on September 4, 2015

The Standard

It highlights the post-colonial struggles amidst the foreign influence that slowly turned locals away from their traditional beliefs. 

Ngugi, in the play, tactfully portrayed the ruling class as taking advantage of the poor. He pointed fingers at the church that he explained only acted to drown the voices of the oppressed citizens and didn’t care much. 

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