My Fair Lady comes to theatre in Kampala

Tayo Shonubi as the protagonist Eliza Dollitle. Photo/Courtesy

What you need to know:

  • My Fair Lady follows Eliza Dollitle, a flower girl who takes phonetic lessons from Professor Henry Higgins, a phonetician, so that she may pass as a lady

It is not everyday that London’s East End or New York’s Broadway hits find themselves in African theatres. Of course, both Lion King and Sarafina have made a number of trips to African theatre and they have been hits. Then of course, there was that time Fela, a tribute to Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti made a splash at Fela’s shrine in Lagos.  But all these musicals have a great tie in with the continent.

Only a few Broadway hits have  staged in Africa without a connection to the continent, for instance, Lin Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights at Nairobi National Theatre in 2021, Hamlet in Kampala in 2016 and Lynn Nottage’s Ruined in Kampala in 2015.
Last week was yet another moment of sorts as National Theatre staged My Fair Lady. The play is based on Irish writer George Bradshaw’s 1913 play Pygmalion, later, in 1956, the play was adapted for Broadway under the title My Fair Lady, starring actress Julie Andrews as Eliza Dolittle and Rex Harrison as Professor Higgins.

The play has since been shown around the world and two films made out of it. But, of course, this information was only known to a few people who follow the different theatre trends around the world and for people who just showed up at the National Theatre out of peer pressure, it was just another day where the performances, as many would say, were lit.
My Fair Lady follows Eliza Dollitle, a flower girl who takes phonetic lessons from Professor Henry Higgins, a phonetician, so that she may pass as a lady. But there is a catch, Higgins cannot stand women, he is a self-professed bachelor and cynical, but agrees.
Produced by Karen Hasahya Kimuli, this is the second production she has been on the helm after the successful Merchant of Venice, which was also held at the National Theatre.
Just like last year, this too is intended to shine a light on mental health, although, during a Twitter Space, Kimuli noted that they are using the shows to bring people back to theatre.

In the conversation on the weekly Art Space, Kimuli said they are trying to have well-produced theatre shows to attract both an audience and a group of people or companies that can fund theatre in future.
The show opened at the Kampala Serena’s Victoria Hall in an exclusive VIP show on April 14.
The gist of the show, however, are the two and half hours directed by writer and actress Aganza Sanyu Kisaka. The show has two casts; In one, Aganza takes on the Eliza role while in the second, Tayo Shonubi takes on the mantle. The production thrives so much on the acting prowess of Shonubi, Lwazi Diamond Kisaka who brought to life Higgins and Simeon Lakuc who embodied Colonel Pickering. 

The three are on stage for the biggest part of the production and thus, their chemistry became key for the rhythm of the production. And in more than one way, each of them was using their strength to move a scene of the production to new heights.
Lwazi, for instance, was a marvel as a misogynistic and annoying character, there was not a time he got chance to sing and did not push his distaste for women in our face. But, of course, that is just the script; on his part he was believable, he lived the part through movement, gesture and appeal. Then there is Shonubi, a writer in her other life. She has a range with her voice and managing to make the audience feel something when she sings, is a gift many Ugandan singers do not have.

Then Lakuc, sometimes saying something  that cannot be heard properly and other times silent, yet his silence is at times so present.
But it is a show where many things are right; stage design and costume. Since it was an opening weekend, we may have got a raw deal with the sound that was on and off or that annoying flickering light, but above it all, local theatres should have such shows, consistently.