by Roland Niwagaba
Kaya Kagimu Mukasa’s Grave Robbers Services is a thought provoking piece that examines the great and horrible things that poverty and lack of employment can really force people to do in order to survive. The protagonist went to school but is unable to find a job anywhere so he convinces his friend who works in the funeral home to help him steal a coffin and some gold from a deceased rich man in order to gain money and approval from family and friends.
This particular production was performed as a reading. With this style, individuals read from the script and voice out the different characters. We even have those reading out the parts that are not dialogue. Like I mentioned in the previous post, one of the goals KITF hopes to achieve is to work with the playwrights and directors to explore different presentation styles that are cost effective and won’t cause massive damage to the pockets. A reading is one such format.
As the production blurb suggests, this one is about a man that has finished school and has failed to find a job. He therefore spends quite a bit of time in the bar, washing away his sorrows and disappointments with life. It is a tale many unemployed youth in Kampala I’m sure can identify with. Your parents/guardians have worked tooth and nail to get you through school, you reward them by working hard and getting high grades and yet, there you are, jobless and your degree gathers dust. It sucks, right?
The star of this tale, a one Junior, who is under pressure from family and girlfriend to make something out of himself, convinces his buddy, Fist, who has chosen to get the only job he could find so he could support his family, to engage desperate times desperate means mode. This job is with a funeral services company where he constantly witnesses the rich getting buried rather expensively. These guys decide to make the best of their circumstances and steal from the dead in order to make their lives better.
I can’t reveal further plot lines without going into spoiler territory (not sure if this is also a thing in the theatre world so I won’t risk it) so let me drop some reflections I got while watching this one.
Theatre, and art in general, have a very clever way of presenting what happens in our society and getting you to think about the underlying issues of everyday life with a fresh perspective. In this particular production, I was left thinking about a couple of things. I won’t touch unemployment, which was the main theme of the production, because it has been discussed extensively in the public domain and is already sounds like a broken record.
The act of burying the dead, expensively, is among the things that grabbed my attention. I’m sure the people that do it have their reasons, probably something to do with respecting the dead and making sure they are comfortable in the afterlife, but I’ve personally never seen the point of buying expensive coffins for your dead and draping them in pricy clothes and accessories.
To what end? The body is going to decompose and the expensive clothes and coffin will probably also decompose with it. There are ways of making sure that these items and the body itself last longer, but what’s the point again? The person is gone. Why can’t you just let them go and use that money for other purposes?
Pay fees for some orphan in their honour maybe? By the time you a rich enough to afford all that extravagance, I’m sure you can then afford to start a trust fund in your name that will help the people you leave behind.
I’m not saying you should just throw the naked body into some hole in the ground, but maybe ease up on the lavishness. The one justification I would understand for this is science, where you are hoping future generations can find the brain of one of the geniuses of our generation still intact and extract more ideas from it using some alien technology that they’ll have discovered at the time.
Anyway, that’s just my opinion. Death and how people look at death is a delicate business so I hope you don’t assume I’m imposing my views on you. … The other thing about this play that got me thinking was the reverends choice to help the boys after their shady activities were discovered.
The reverend is a friend of Junior’s family, and community at large, who Junior’s parents send him to, to discuss his drinking problem and other issues. He sounded like the kind of reverend you’d probably invite to the bar for one, and he’d turn up and catch a soda just so he could participate in the banter. But by helping the boys, he was effectively breaking the law, being an accomplice to a crime and what not. But he is man of the cloth. Ideally, you’d think he should be working with the police to make sure this crime gets punished.
And from the dialogue, I got the gist that the church considers grave robbing a very grave sin (SWIDT?) His justification for helping them, which had something to do with his own past and his understanding of how circumstances can force you into strange actions, made sense though. This all begs the question, where does one that has chosen the path of righteousness draw the line on what they can let slide.
Does God judge them if they make a wrong judgement? Heck, we know we are not supposed to judge fellow man, so does this make the reverends actions right? I don’t know if my questions about all this are making any sense, but it must be difficult being a man of God and constantly having debates with yourself on what goes and what doesn’t.
The thing with art is that it is not restricted by interpretation. These are the questions I left with after watching this particular production and I’m sure the other members of the audience had their own.
The audience seemed to be composed of mainly theatre practitioners, so most of the feedback in the Q&A session was slanted to the technical side of things; the how the writing could have been better, character development and relevance, plot holes the seemingly inevitable gender representation questions and so on. I therefore didn’t get a chance to hear the writer, Kaya Kagimu Mukasa’s response for what inspired her to write this one and what message she was trying to put across.
Unfortunately, this production won’t be showing again at this particular festival, so those who missed will have to follow the writer closely to know where and when the next showing will be so they can get their own interpretation. As I am earning at this festival, it will probably be a different version since it keeps on going through modifications meant to improve it and the actors are not always the same.
My education on theatre continues.