ďTHE BLACK HERMIT"

 

Most African writers have explored the problems arising out of colonisation and de-colonisation. In essence, although there are many practical sides to the problem it resolves itself to the upheaval and social dislocation caused by the imposition of a technological and urban culture upon an agrarian and rural one. James Ngugi is better than the average writer and in his play ďThe Black Hermit" he skilfully analyses the problems.

 

The plot is superficially simple, the central character Remi is throughout the play presented with a variety of choices. Should he remain in the city with the attractions of the nightlife and his white girl friend or return to the village and his customary wife? Should he help his tribe as a tribe or persuade them to be part of the nation? Remi fails everyone eventually; his girl friend, his wife, his family, his tribe and ultimately himself as the play moves to its tragic conclusion.

 

Since the production was sparsely attended, a brief summary follows:

 

Act 1 - The locale here is the village where Remi's family and tribe plan to persuade Remi to return from the city to promote their tribal interests.

 

Act 2 - takes place in Remi's city flat and Remi makes his choice to leave his white girl friend and to return to the tribal life. His decision is a compromise as he returns with the intention to preach the evils of tribalism rather than to promote it as he has been asked to.

 

Act 3 - meanwhile back at the village the tribe eagerly await Remi's return. Remi arrives, rejects his customary wife, criticises the tribal ways and ends with his remorse over his wife's suicide.

 

The production began humdrumly with no pace, no feeling and no atmosphere. The opening scene between Thoni (the local wife) and Nyobi (Remi's Mother) was flat and under played and produced. The scene is powerfully written and even if village life may be repetitive there is no need to make the characters monotonously intone their parts. Both Thoni (Eleanor Tembo) and Nyobi (Judith Nalungwe) had the ability to act as they later showed in Act III. There were good bursts of life in this Act from the First Elder (Peter Chanda) and the leader (Steve Chanda) which served to highlight the sterility of the opening scene.

 

Act II contained sensitive performances from both Remi (Isiah Lukanganyama) and his girl friend Maria (Brunella Topham) and spotlighted well the conflict between their opposing cultures. Remi brought out sharply the confusions of an urbanised educated mind and Maria acted with a well controlled tension the dilemma she faced; being in love with Remi but having to accept the inevitability of losing him to his past.

 

Act III contained swift drama and was well performed and directed throughout. The final tragedy of Thonis' suicide and Remiís failure had a major impact although this would have been greater had the importance of Thoni as a central character been better presented in Act I.

 

Of the other parts, the Pastor (Brian Neill) was the most difficult. The part is badly written by the Author and is so easily open to caricature but the actor skilfully avoided this and brought out well the difficulties of man in a beleaguered position caught between Christianity and custom.

 

Omange (Joseph Chabu) Remiís downtown friend was a good foil for Remi and the actor showed understanding for the comedy of his part.

 

A good noteworthy feature of this production was the clarity of the actorsí diction and the complete absence of annoying prompts. Lighting, costumes set and sounds were well done but why African singing instead of night club music at the beginning of Act II?

 

Although this was never a boring evening's theatre, "The Black Hermit" is a play which with its variety of conflicts and characters has the potential for making a far greater impact than this production realised.