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Festival evokes Wycliffe Kiyingi nostalgia

The first ever theatre festival ended on Sunday at the National theatre.

The festival was meant to revive a fading theatre industry and it was a cocktail of activities ranging from art, drama, dance, speech, poetry, music, wrestling and circus. The do attracted keynote speakers, Sam Okello, Andrew Benon Kibuuka, Mulindwa Muwonge, Stephen Rwangyenzi, Fagil Mandy and others from across the world.

Works from prominent Ugandan playwrights living and deceased featured, but it was Wycliffe Kiyingi’s Muduuma kwe kwaffe that mesmerized most. Leading into this particular show, a rumour had circulated that Kiyingi had died; organisers had to clarify that he was indeed still alive.

Kiyingi is one of Uganda’s greatest playwrights and he writes with such brilliance that even while most of his plays were written before our 1962 independence, they reflect the current situation in Uganda. According to Dr Mercy Mirembe Ntangaare, Wycliffe was the first Ugandan playwright for TV, radio and theatre.

“He’s the grandfather of Ugandan theatre; our own Shakespeare,” she said.

During his active days, Kiyingi penned plays such as Muka Sempala, W’okulira, Gw’osusa emwanyi, Olugendo lw’e Gologoosa and Muduuma kwe kwaffe, among others. Written around 1945, Muduuma kwe kwaffe is one of the few books still examinable at the university and alongside other Kiyingi works, has been translated into various languages.

At the theatre festival, an all-star cast including Charles Bwanika Ssensuwa, Sophie Matovu, Isaac Kuddzu, Patriko Mujuuka, Edwin Mukalazi and Ivan Tumwesigye restaged the play. Set in a pre-independent Uganda where the main trade item was cotton, Kiyingi uses Muduuma, a village, to represent Uganda as a whole.

The plot rotates around residents of Muduuma, who sell only to Murji (Kuddzu), an exploitative Indian trader in the area. When the World War II veterans return, they influence Muduuma residents into pushing for their own independence so as to manage their own finances like in the western countries they had fought in. This leads to drama, intrigue, confusion and suspense.

Muduuma kwe kwaffe is a masterpiece in all aspects; unlike popular theatre where a simple story is told in over 30 winding scenes, in this one, the curtains only open once and in a single location – a marketplace – the entire story unfolds.

“It is such an honour for me to be part of this classic project,” said Afri Talent’s Bwanika.

As part of their initiative to revive theatre, the producers promised to stage events where these classic plays will be showcased come December. Like many of the plays at the festival, Muduuma kwe kwaffe was directed by Kaaya Kagimu Mukasa.


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