They say that those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Well, if there is one thing to be learned from Too Early for Birds Brazen Edition it is that women have been erased or left out of our history, our stories, and their contributions swept under the rag.
It was an all ladies affair at the Too Early for Birds Brazen Edition as stories of incredible women in Kenya’s history that we may have forgotten about or chosen not to acknowledge were showcased. These were stories of courage, resilience, and hope. These were stories of women that had dared to shift the status quo, that had risen above what was expected of them as ‘the weaker sex’ and thrived. These were women that were way beyond their time.
The show started with some dancing from GQ dancers who were part of the cast and incorporated dance into various aspects of the brazen stories. Each dance routine was accompanied by a girl power anthem relevant to the story that was being told at the time. The dance routines brought a different aspect and energy to the stage that has never been seen in the previous Too Early for Birds show. Speaking of the dances, why did they not use Kenyan music considering that these are stories about Kenyan women? The first dance while beautiful was also a bit puzzling. What was the essence of the dance? That dance left us with more questions than answers.
It then moved into a scene with six women, each representing a different female archetype- a wise old woman (or cūcū), Beatrice who was a younger and super religious companion for her, Bosi the househelp, Lillian, a sex worker, Nakagwa, a young pregnant lady and Ciru, a half Kikuyu, half Indian lady (pointy). These characters were played by Sitawa Namwale (who also played Field Marshall Muthoni), Suki Wanza, Mercy Mutisya, Queen Akinyi, Laura Ekumbo and Aleya Kassam respectively. These women, together with Nyokabi Wainaina and Anne Moraa, made up the incredibly talented female cast that brought all the brazen stories of other great women to life.
They were seated around a table, talking about how cūcū had lost her job as a women’s history lecturer and how it seemed like her records at the university were being removed in favour of her former male colleagues. Talk then started to revolve around how females had done so much throughout history, but not much was said about their contribution or even documented.
The stories told were from the memories of cūcū, who was in the early stages of dementia and kept drifting in and out, as well as what the other women had read and heard about. The stage had been divided into two so that one side was cūcū’s sitting room where they all sat, and the other side was where each of the stories unfolded. This was a very effective use of space and enabled the audience to keep up with the various aspects of the stories and shift between the past and the present effortlessly. Nyokabi and Anne acted out the stories as they were being narrated, changing into different characters like chameleons and bringing history, or more aptly, herstory, to life in every scene and every gesture. There were quick dance breaks between scenes that were unexpected and exactly what was needed to cut through the tension brought by some of the more intense scenes.
What I loved about the show was the various stories of brazen women of all ages that were being showcased. We learned about Mekatilili wa Menza who led the resistance when she was in her 70s, Wangu wa Makeri who was the first and only female headman of what is the present-day Murang’a, and Chelagat Mutai who was the first elected female Nandi MP at just 24 years old. The other stories that were highlighted of brazen women were of Zarina Patel who fought to keep Jevanjee Gardens a public space during the Moi regime, Nandi who found out the secret of Lwanda Magere’s strength and helped her Kalenjin community to have victory over their enemy, and Field Marshall Muthoni who is an iconic Kenyan freedom fighter who fought alongside men in the forest against the British.
What I didn’t like about the show was that some of the stories seemed rushed and without a lot of contexts, like the Zarina Patel one. I also felt like the ending was a bit of a letdown and I didn’t really understand it. The sound was also a problem at times, especially when the scenes were intense and the actresses were speaking in hushed tones.
All in all, this was an amazing show that I would happily attend over and over again. and I was glad I had gotten there four hours early and got to experience the brilliance that was Too Early for Birds Brazen Edition. While previous shows had glanced over stories that involved women, this was the first Two Early for Birds show that revolved exclusively around women and the leading roles each of them played in shaping Kenya’s history. In fact, there were only two scenes in the whole show where men played a role, and it was minor at that!
Women have played, and continue to play, a much larger role in our history than what most of us have read or have been told. It is time for herstory to be told.
How did Too Early For Birds start? Find out more here Too Early For Birds: Retelling Our Stories In A Badass Way