A group of people find themselves in hell and they need to know why they got there. So the play is made as a series flashbacks for the main characters. For a play lasting about three hours and about 25 people in the cast, it was quite a show.
The play is actually a musical of sorts. Yours truly generally avoids musicals because his simple mind cannot get why you should merge two art forms as primary elements. Hell’s Academy did not really change his mind but the music was good, and actually felt relevant. The music and vocal coordination were exemplary too, I think it would be safe to say I sat through a musical, of sorts. It, however, has very visible issues with continuity and some parts, the art appreciated, are illogical.
The plot connects a primary religious theme with numerous sub-themes including culture, politics, economy and complacency. The issues pointed out with continuity are easy to fix areas, the constraints of a live performance notwithstanding. The guy in front of me laughed exactly three times while another guy behind laughed so much at one point that he started screaming ‘aki wacheni!’ As someone who sheds tears when he laughs too hard, I totally understand him.
Most of the issues with continuity are easily attributable to the fact that this was a large cast-25 people- and multiple storylines. For the keen eye though, continuity issues spoil what would be the most creatively hilarious scenes. For example, when one character is caught in a compromising situation with his student, a Deputy Principal, the villain of the play, uses his phone to capture the moment. When he wants to show them to the principal, the two ‘lovebirds run back to their previous position and freeze. Cheesy, right? Only till you notice that the Teacher was not wearing his coat when the picture was taken but in the ‘photo moment’, he has it on. Its flimsy I know but there is a reason why a set should have a continuity girl/boy on set whose work is to be flimsy.
Another point in continuity is where one character has to forgo a scholarship because Joseph, the Deputy, has impregnated her. The village agrees to send him instead so they do not have to condone him anymore. Later, he has become a doctor at a posh island hospital. The girl gives birth and the child has issues so the village decides to call on him. Simple logic tells you a timeframe is missing. Here, a medicine course would take six years by which time the child would be on his feet and in school.
The costume also had some issues including the fact that the backdrop had an image of a horned and winged devil but the character had none. In fact, he only had a hat, red garb and face painting to make him look scary. Anything else but that could have worked. I am tempted to think that he was selected because of his height but any good director can turn an actor into the character he desires. A set of horns, made from anything, including well cut carton or any other hard paper, could work just fine. Get the guy a pitchfork, make him look scary and intimidating. Include a voice over of a villains laugh, the whole ‘mwahahaha’ as now permitted by the Oxford Dictionary.
As a self-confessed ‘Grammar Nazi’, and sitting next to one, the issues with diction and voice with some characters was also prominent and at times, distracting. A director, I think, should create characters with specific actors in mind and then let them personalize the language so the vocals are natural and not Morgan Freeman-wannabe. Two characters stood out, the principal and the girl whose mum dies and she is caught in a compromising situation seemed to struggle with the wording. Compared, the attempts to get our cultural mess of language into a script always works well in any comedic plot.
My favorite scene? Two actually, and my opinion here might be biased. One is the scene. In the video play where Juma, a good friend of mine, plays Pastor Project Fame-a parody of Judge Ian Mbugua and Samuel Gitau married into one hilarious character- and then sings ‘Thriiiiira!’
There are many others, including why the very funny chaplain character is condemned for being the Ian Mbugua equivalent in a show which he wins. How does he become a chaplain? The scene is hilarious and satirical but the logic behind it is wanting. Two, the scene where the chaplain calls God using a landline and talks to him with a Luopean accent. The last scene is illogical too, a hanging in hell? How many times can a man die? Even the concept of a Judgment Day following the Rapture implies that only those who are pure at heart will be rapture/taken away. How then the characters are ‘raptured’ and end up in hell…and yes, I over think things.
The beauty of watching the everyone forget that the national anthem has three stanzas and not one as high school made us all think. It’s a predictable reaction, just wait until the first stanzas is done and then look around at all the people who rush to sit before the second stanza starts and they shoot up again. Patriotism and conditioned amnesia, it would seem, are not very good friends. It also makes everyone, including yours truly, sing the first stanza over and over again before quickly mouthing ‘natukae na shukrani.’