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Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion brings dinner theatre to Kampala

Pygmalion which had its Ugandan premiere at Copper Chimney Restaurant Lugogo over the weekend was one of the most successful works of then promising screenwriter, George Bernard Shaw.
He thought comedy was at its best when ideas were allowed to collide in the service of public enlightenment.
Written in 1912, Pygmalion came at the time Shaw wasn’t at the best of relations with the British media, he argued that whenever he released a play, they would tell the public that it wasn’t actually a play but blasphemy, dull and financially unpopular art.
Which was the main reason that Pygmalion was performed in Vienna and Berlin first before being staged in Britain two years later; On Thursday, theatre lovers in Uganda got a chance to marvel at the Shaw genius when the production about Professor of phonetics Henry Higgins was reenacted by the Kampala Amateur Dramatics Society (KADS) in what was termed as a dinner theatre.
Dinner theatre is a means of making the art more enjoyable, entertaining people as they are having a meal and thus achieving the factor of nourishing both the body and mind – not the conventional kind of theatre but totally acceptable.
In the play, Higgins makes a bet that he can train a bedraggled Cockney flower girl, Eliza Doolittle, to pass for a member of the British upper class by teaching her to assume a veneer of gentility, the most important element of which, he believes, is impeccable speech.
It’s the kind of play you can summarize in the straightest way possible, Higgins vowed to make Eliza an affluent citizen of the British upper class and he achieved it. But what matters, is how he did it and the fun that happens on the way.
We get introduced to all these exciting characters besides Eliza and her zeal for knowledge, Colonel Pickering, who had come to England seeking the great Higgins.
The best fun of the show was the irruption of Eliza’s father, Alfred Doolittle, dustman, one of the undeserving poor who explained his wholly immoral views of life and morality. He wanted money and in his dialogue, he noted that he lived by ‘touching’ people.
Dollittle was willing to leave his daughter behind with Higgins who he well knew was a bachelor, yes, his motives were money driven.
 KADS take on the Shaw classic is interesting, the director Tom Adlam notes that he took a number of liberties with this production; “First, the play has been substantially abridged from its original form in order to reduce stage time to about 90 minutes.”
In order to provide a clear separation between the four acts, each act has a short prologue in the form of an interview by a journalist (Douglas Sebamala, who played himself) with the playwright (Arfaan Ahmed).
The cast did a tremendous job in giving the production a life, Adlam was convincing as Higgins and so was Steve Brown as Alfred Doolittle, but the cast had a good day generally even when some part of the Ugandan cast seemed to be slow especially with some of the jokes.
KADS produces a wide range of plays and musicals in Uganda, in the past they’ve worked on classics like Much Ado About Nothing, Watchdog and Grease among others. They mostly work with professionals that have an eye for arts even when it’s not what they do as their fulltime job.

About Kaggwa Andrew

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