Review by Edwin Mokaya
If I had to write about this musical in one word, I’d say –ITWASTHEBESTMUSICALEVER! From the title, there is no doubt that the director and cast of the musical had a tall order, first to create the matatu, and then to create a sea for it to drive into. And they managed both tasks superbly.
I attended the show on Sunday, 16th of May 2010 at Sarakasi Dome in Ngara, Nairobi. And like at every Storymoja event, there was the Storymoja bookstand, the Storymoja banners, and smiling Storymoja staff to welcome me at the entrance. I walked into the theatre, and found not a stage but a sea. The transformation made me feel like I was underwater somewhere deep in the ocean.
The story involves a matatu driver, Rasta Driver (Joshua Ogutu Moraya), who sees an opportunity to establish a thriving transportation business underwater. And so he plunges his matatu into the sea, against the advice of the KWS warden (Valentine Wambui Kamau). He gets a sidekick, Octopus the conductor, who is the biggest and scariest octopus I’ve ever seen. His mere sight makes the fish scuttle in fear. You would be tempted to think he actually is a matatu conductor in real life. But he is a musician with a band called Inyamumbo, and his name is Moses Akati.
The octopus conductor manages to get the fish on board the matatu, pretty much by forcing them. The passengers are three angelfish (Catherine, Irene and Sandra), a crab (Rachael – who, my goodness, can rap like no one’s business), a parrotfish (Benson), a tiny goby (Jaimy), a sting ray (Emily), a puffer fish (Hamza), an eel (Ronie), an emperor fish (Ronie) and a snail (Moira).
The three angelfish are going to an international beauty pageant. And right in the middle of everything, they started quarrelling about who was the prettiest among the three. Of course they were all pretty and glittering, and they danced so well I almost got up and joined them.
Mixing an adult cast with a cast of extremely talented youngsters was an excellent move. Woi, those kids from Arya Primary School stole my heart, especially the turtle, in his yellow-card tracks and shell on his back. That was as close to a turtle as anyone could be. Vincent was laid back, with an absent-minded look on his face, and his movements were slow, just like a turtle’s, as if he was in another dimension all together.
This musical was full of life and rhymes, and it flowed smoothly from one scene to the next, and the next. “Do you think I came to this adventure to slowly rush?” is a question Rasta Driver poised to some fish that had the audacity to ask him to slow down.
I loved the bits of information sprinkled throughout the performance. For example, the KWS warden told us that ninety percent of liquid on earth is salty seawater. I didn’t know that!
Rasta Driver and his Octopus counterpart oppressed the fish for a while, but then a shark came! Swift and ferocious he was. Rasta Driver cried, “Heeelp!” But even the audience booed him. He started crying, got on his knees and promised to respect the sea and its creatures.
What I also appreciated is that the cast did not forget they were in the sea. Often a fish would float past, just as they do underwater, with no cue or purpose, I presume, other than to simply float. Again, there is one word to describe the set, the music and the acting: colourful.
I asked Keith Pearson, the show’s director, what it was like working with a cast that included children. His answer: He had mad fun. “They were always full of energy,” he said.
Lilian Amimo Olembo, the choreographer and production manager said, “Putting together the show was fantastic. I enjoyed it and would like to continue. I would like to see Matatu from Watamu go international. However, money was a challenge. Staging a musical is expensive, with the creation of the set, music, etc. But I loved it and I’m happy we pulled through.”
“What is the inspiration behind this musical?” I asked Muthoni Garland, writer of the script. She said that the genesis of the story came about when she turned 40 and as a birthday treat, her husband took her snorkeling in Watamu. Yes, she is very much a Kenyan, thank you, she said, and she scuba dived in Watamu, which by the way is in Kenya.
I admit I didn’t know such a sport existed in this beautiful country of ours. So our Muthoni wore that gear we pretty much only see on telly, and went underwater! And there she saw this new awesome world of sea creatures: turtles, angelfish, crabs, sting ray, you name them, they were there. And viola! The inspiration for The Matatu from Watamu Drove into the Sea! I too should be taken scuba diving for my birthday. (Sweetie, I hope you read this; scuba diving next time!) Kudos to Storymoja and the whole team behind the show!