Cooking Oil: An elaborate portrayal of corruption

A scene from Deborah Assimwe's play Cooking Oil. PHOTO BY ISMAIL KEZAALA

Deborah Asiimwe won the 2010 BBC Overall African Performance Playwriting Competition. Her play is titled Cooking Oil and is currently showing at the National Theatre. This production has changed the way local drama has been presented; that is, it is structured. It is an attempt to do things the way the book dictates.

The setting is simple. It hardly changes, only a few things do. The production team makes fairly good use of the lights, interjecting them with darkness not to play tricks but to expound on the subjects at play. And what they have done quite well is to concentrate their efforts on the meat of the drama which leaves you fascinated.

The plot concerns corruption, this time concentrating more on what finally happens to those that have chosen to lose themselves to the vice. While we are all acquainted with the subject at hand, this production presents it in a unique way. One would have thought of Chogm money or Global Fund but they settled for cooking oil.

You have incumbent MP Silver (Tonny Muwangala) who was given cooking oil to freely distribute to his people but instead resorts to selling it. He brings in people to help, who also get fairly rich in the process. Among them is a man who can’t pay school fees for his daughter. So, he gives her some of the cooking oil to sell.

But the family gets into trouble. There is a government agent who has started trailing their steps. And much as Bataka (Edwin Mukalazi) wants to quit, Silver will not allow him. What makes this play worth watching are the exposition techniques employed. There are dreams; characters dreaming about what is about to happen. The music is local and performed right there on stage. Then, there are soliloquies and monologues and these are used quite often.

It is from the monologues that we get to know much about Maria’s (Rosario Achola) problems as well as her father. Irony is another technique used often. There is a scene where villagers are asking for what they need most, but the MP insists on planting them sugarcane. It reminds me of the politician who promises his constituents bridges, and when they say; “But we don’t have a river,” he says; “I will create you one.” The other good thing about this production is that it does not drag on; it is one and half hours.

However while a number of things are good, the actors have not mastered their roles. They are not impressively absorbed in their characters, they give a feeling of actors who have crammed their lines and you can read it in each and every step they take. The main character; Rosario Achola is good. She is new on stage, but she can act. She is audible, expressive and sarcastic. Dressed in tattered clothes, she makes you feel sympathetic for her situation. And she knows how to sing too.

Tonny Muwangala (Silver) does not have the physique of signature big bellied corrupt men, but his performance as a passionately no nonsense corrupt incumbent MP covers up for all that. Samuel Lutaaya is mostly known for contemporary dance, but he does not betray as a man who has sold his soul to the corrupt MP. Then, he has a way of throwing himself at Rosaria and he has stage presence too.
This play is on today and tomorrow. Tickets cost Shs10,000 for adults and Shs5,000 for students.