Chanco Travelling Theatre which is a grouping of students from University of Malawi – Chancellor College on Thursday showed their prowess in acting as they premiered the play titled Mmatsakamula at The Great Hall in Zomba.
Mmatsakamula which attracted a sizeable audience is a Chichewa version of the play titled The Rainmaker which was written by renowned writer, editor and teacher Professor Steve Chimombo and was staged in 1975.
The play has been translated in Chichewa by Professor Chimombo’s son Zangaphee and actor Steve Kango.
Directed by renowned playwright and drama lecturer, Smith Likongwe, the play impressed the audience in The Great Hall which included Professor Francis Moto and Moira Chimombo, wife to Professor Steve Chimombo, who were the first to star in the production in 1975.
It was a special night for Chimombo, who followed the play from start to finish, he clapped hands to appreciate the talent and he laughed during some scenes and it all took him back to 1975.
Chimombo, who was the centre of attraction during the premiere, could not hide his excitement at the end of the production which lasted for more than one hour.
“It’s a good play and I don’t know how they got all the other meat because its not the same with the original version of the play which was staged in 1975. I am satisfied with what I have seen and all I can see is that the group should take this production to other places like Blantyre, Lilongwe and Mzuzu for people to sample and appreciate the story,” he said.
Professor Chimombo, who is considered one of the nation’s leading writers and has several, books to his credit including a 1988 Napolo Poems which gained him honourable mention for the Noma Award for Publishing in Africa was mobbed by the students at the end as they took photographs with him but also signed autographs.
Professor Moto, was also glued to his seat from the start to finish, the play was long but he was not bored, he enjoyed the proceedings and it was as if he was watching the 1975 production.
“I am very happy to watch a production after 40 years. It is a mature play that zeroes in on the issue of conflict in the society and how the community resolves conflicts. This is a rich story of M’bona and the students have done well to do the play once again. They actually did it well compared to the time we performed ours. But the basic story still remains the same and I am happy that the spirit of the rainmaker remains the same,” said Professor Moto.
Likongwe, who has written several productions for both stage and radio heaped praises on the students for taking their roles in the production seriously and showing their best in front of the writer Professor Chimombo and the translators Zangaphee, who was accompanied by his wife and child.
In fact Professor Chimombo’s other son Napolo was also part of the audience.
“I am impressed with the students’ performance and the play has been well done as I directed it. I would like to thank Zangaphee and Kango for the translation in which they wanted to honour Professor Chimombo and also show that the country has enough material worth adapting and not only relying on material from outside,” said the drama lecturer.
He said they also decided to stage the play which is set to be published into a book, as this is on the occasion of the 40th anniversary since the play was first produced and part of the university’s 50th anniversary.
“This is a good play which has stood the test of time and this is why we selected it and this is also part of telling our own stories,” said Likongwe.
Before the audience watched the production, there was also a poetry performance by one of the students.
The students were on point in their act, they scored marks on costume and the stage presentation was good but there is still room for improvement in terms of tightening some of the scenes. For instance the students sing more songs in the piece but they need to rehearse and improve on their voices.
There is also a traditional dance which sees a Gule Wamkulu coming to the stage, the audience expected a captivating dance but it was not to be and this needs to improve.
In the piece some students play multiple roles and they surely need to rework on their entry to differentiate their different roles so as not to confuse the audience.
Chimombo’s play Rainmaker is basically a poetic elaboration of an event which looms large in the oral history of Malawi. The event in question is the rise of a separatist religious cult associated with the prophet-priest M’bona which split off from an older cult dedicated to the High God Chauta.
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