When the Chancellor College Travelling Theatre launched its two books on Sunday afternoon at Blantyre Sports Club, one thing was clear; art can be used in more ways than just entertainment.
Their performances of fragments of the plays stolen from the two books Living Playscripts: Trilogy, The Chiefs Blanket and other Plays brought to life three of Malawi’s former presidents and tackled thorny cultural issues.
Living Playscripts: Trilogy is made up of three plays, Bakili’s Wit, The Bingu Tragedy and Amai’s Turn. All these plays were written by the theatre group’s Smith Likongwe.
The Chiefs Blanket and other Plays have contributions from various writers such as Linda Tembo for Ours is Alive, Wongile Mbano for The grass on the other side by Wanangwa Gondwe, Zondiwe Mbano for The return, Bennie Msuku for The White Cloth and Wongile Mbano for Kaulimi.
The cover title, The Chiefs Blanket which confronts the cultural discrepancies mirrored through the failings of traditional leaders in the face of political influence is courtesy of Likongwe himself.
When the youthful cast led by first year student Jimmy Masamba, who ably played the role of Bakili Muluzi, took to the stage to perform an excerpt from Bakili’s Wit, the depiction vividly rolled back the hands of time to the period of the country’s first democratic leader.
The handouts, the sense of humour from the sometimes overly-sensitive jokes and charisma were all on show during the 15 minute cameo which left the sizeable number of patrons in stitches.
Eunice Liwewe, Thandiwe Lizi, Ruth Chavula and Virginia Chavula were marvellous in their part performance of The Chiefs Blanket, with the other three offering sexual counselling to Liwewe who was portrayed as Namwali
ready to take on any marital demands.
Perhaps the only element which soiled the otherwise lively afternoon was the group’s rendition of The Tragedy of Bingu which in real sense was flat. It had people waiting for a climax which never came until its two scenes played out despite being a tragedy.
Likongwe said this was their modest contribution towards Malawian literature so that the country continues to be counted in terms of playwriting by producing works of reference to be at par with works from other parts of the world and periods of history.
“In part, it is a celebration of our leaders. On the other hand we wanted to expose their lives and ideologies, analyse their policies and governance styles in order to improve for the better in future.
“We also felt duty bound to preserve cultural practices for posterity and bring in new dimensions to our culture. To expose Malawian culture and present the same for further development such as films,” he said.
Likongwe stressed that there was no better way of recording the attendant incidents during the transition from one party to a multi-party State, analysing the character of the leaders and acknowledging their contributions than writing the books.
Malawi Writers Union (Mawu) board member Emmanuel Chinunda, in his address as the guest of honour, said the unveiling of the two books is a milestone as it has set a direction which Malawian dramatists and playwrights should take.
He said: “This is what we need to do if Malawi is to be recognised as a country that has writers and creative people. The majority of the literature that we have is foreign and there is nothing wrong with foreign literature. But as Malawians where are we in the equation?
“We should not be sleeping on the job as creative people. And we should not wait for people from outside the country to document our own history. And we should not pretend that we do not have customs and traditions when we have an overflow.”
One of Malawi’s revered stage drama actors, Frank Patani Mwase, while commending Chancellor College Travelling Theatre felt they needed to give more in their performances as it will have a direct impact on the drive to have their books bought.
Mwase said: “When you come out there you have to know that it is your moment. Come out and show the world what you are made of. When you come to a performance like this, all the ethics must be on point.
“Their performance will drive and determine how the books will fare on the market. What they gave out was good but they should do it more boldly and not unapologetically. They needed to come to the party as it is their moment of truth.”
Other notable names in the arts industry present, Mawu president Sambalikagwa Mvona, Book Publishers Association of Malawi president Alfred Msadala, actors Max DC Chimphinga and Mafumu Matiki.
The first two books were auctioned for K100 000 and were bought by Chinunda. n