By Joel Benjamin Ntwatwa
I studied Francis Imbuga’s “Betrayal in the City” while in school. It remains very much a favourite. And here we were on a hot afternoon in a not so high rise with some sirens sounding every now and then being introduced to an adaptation of it by Angella Emurwon in a black tee, the adaptation by Lloyd Lutara who was in a white shirt with African print.
It was titled : My Brother’s Keeper – A Ghost Story.
I was curious to find out how a collaboration of Lutara and Emurwon would work. The former a diligent writer and film maker, the latter an award winning playwright.
The adaptation comes straight home to the cows. The characters are Ugandan, the rites Ugandan, the conflict stays African. A man who would be King, who feels his magnanimity is being taken for granted, who over time loses respect for life.
“Has the peace also outstayed its welcome?” He quips as he remarks how everyone thinks he has outstayed his welcome. “I have put the internet in your pockets,” he brags as though he invented it.
The story is eerily close to current affairs albeit it being an adaptation of a play from 1976. However in its telling Lutara is clearly grappling with an idea that plagues the masses. Both the middle class and the proverbial “scum of the earth”.
In fact, less an idea, more a conflict, a confusion, a not knowing what to do to make one’s country better.
The events in Ghost Story are very close to those in Imbuga’s play but a lot is moved around. Motivations, settings, times of events and more. If you’ve read the original, yes, this was close but actually different especially given the Ugandan setting.
It is very much a play that speaks the minds of many. That shows how divided a country is. In it, Lutara uses similar elements that Imbuga uses, like traditions, nepotism (tall relatives), hauntings, vendettas to ask us to think about change. He asks us how should we approach the idea of change?
Will it be by violence but if not violence will silence help? It’s a terrible place where hesitation to choose puts countries in certain positions. Angry frustrated but unable to move for change.
On the question of state violence, he states “If this is the price of freedom of speech, no wonder so many of us remain silent.” However later his statement changes and shows a stalemate in how this issue of change can be affected.
The production was a reading and is a work in progress. This means there was a lot of stage directions and script reading. It is hard to judge it fully as a stage production this way without the accompanying details like props, costumes etc. So we were in essence examining the words, the way the plot moves, the characterisation which were both not badly done.
One can only imagine what a finished work would look like. I see a lot of space for improvement. A little more humour to counter the gravity of the matters at hand or perhaps less action. I believe that since Lutara and Emurwon are working together, it is getting to its best. At the moment, it is hard to miss the political issues it is pointing at but there are many other issues – sexual harassment, bribery, nepotism, mental health etc.
It makes a very important statement in a place where we do not know whether to choose violence or silence.
“The way to find the answer is if we are looking for it.”
Photos : James Wasswa