Scathing Semo spills on

Lions Theatre’s Semo has survived a sordid start and slippery reappearance to tour the northern and central regions of Malawi next week.

The political satire which landed playwright Thlupego Chisiza a night in police custody and K5 000 ($30) fine last year, dates Mzuzu University next Friday and Katoto Secondary School the following afternoon.

The group will take the show to Kasungu Inn Saturday night before heading to Lilongwe.

According to Chisiza, the Sunday spree in the capital includes an afternoon show at Chipasula Secondary School and an evening at Kamuzu College of Nursing.

“Since the comeback show at Robin’s Park on Monday, we have been receiving invitations from our fans far and wide. This is their time to taste the hard truth that Semo has in store,” said Chisiza, who was fined K5 000 for staging the play without a permit from the Censorship Board last month.

With no censors in sight or armed police officers invading the stage with handcuffs, the son of theatre legend Du Chisiza Jnr and his lieutenants restaged the play with sporadic slips in scenes, setting, spoken English and sensitivity to dictates of powers that be.

Yet, the performance was packed with thought-provoking punches and innuendos on overpraised dictators desperately decimating cries of the people who bear the blunt side of bad governance.

In this line, it had one take home message: Destruction of democracy lies not in the loud voices of the elite fools and praise-singers, but the awful silence of a good many.

Where political groups suffer from chronic lack of clear succession plans, Semo calls  even on the ruling party to seek views of its members at  a convention, instead of rubberstamping the ruler’s brother as an heir to the throne.

Is there democracy in your party? Will the king retire with a smile if he continues running the kingdom like a personal estate? Why are the voters who gave him a landslide victory against him now? These and more questions pour on Mphwephwa, a bald-headed spindoctor who spoils the king with praises, parties and titles as the citizenry languishes in a myriad ways.

On the president’s anointed successor, Mphwempwa’s wife  asks king Chiphaliwali  (cryptically nicknamed Semo for Moses): “Maudindo m’mangopatsana. What will your brother do when you are busy messing things up. What will he do when he cannot even keep a wife? Does he have requisite looks for the throne?”

Combining the costume of Du’s early classic Nyamilandu and the forthrightness of pro-multiparty Democracy Boulevard, Semo takes a jolting twist when dissenting members of the politburo walk out in protest to the eviction of Joyce (played by Elizabeth Kaitano), who refuses to support the chosen one’s candidature.

“The country has a lot of capable people and to impose anything less is betraying public trust,” argues one of the dissidents.

The consistent gush that survived the censors’ razor blade is intertwined with subthemes of family life, child spacing and sexual scandals men and women encounter when they go drinking.

Some members of the audience felt the two-hour play is longish and lacks a thread of continuity and clarity of thought, but Manganya (real name Michael Usi)—whose Loto La  Farao reels like part one of Semo— says it was a well-rehearsed act of courage.

Said the comedian: “The playwright and the actors knew what they were doing. They were able to carry the audience from one scene to another with vigour and courage. In the end, it proves to Malawians that even if artists have freedom of speech and thought, they articulate issues with responsibility.

The play was balanced as it questions rulers and their critics equally. It is a lost opportunity that the civil society as well as leaders of the ruling and opposition parties shunned the show.”

Still, the group only has just a week to fine-tune their act lest they embarrass themselves on the tight tour ahead.

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