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Adungu Tales: Ambitious ethno musical drama

A scene from Adungu Tales, an ethno musical drama. Photo/Andrew Kaggwa.

Play: Adungu Tales
Venue: National Theatre

When you talk about theatre, specifically a musical, the first thing that comes to mind is; an orchestra, opera singers and haunting show tunes that carry emotions from one point of the story to the next.

Much as these aspects of theatre are appreciated, they also become the reason people believe theatre is complicated. Truth, not everyone walks into a classical musical show and understands what is going on. To use the whisky analogy, a musical is like whisky that needs juice to be simplified for everyone.

Which is partly the reason shows such as Fela and In the Heights rattled feathers and got audiences turning when they premiered. Many of them were not playing by the rules, they were on Broadway, yet never that classical.

This brings us to Adungu Tales which premiered at the National Theatre on May 1. The production is a dream of many creatives; a musical whose music is based on traditional instruments and indigenous choreography.

From the original music, to the dances, the team at Bantu Arts, the producers of the show seemed to have been ambitious even at the time the play was in inception.
With Andereya Baguma doing most of the music direction, the play thrived on melody and dance. The songs were too beautiful to be carried home after the show, a beautiful character of any production.

In a nutshell, the play follows a story of a Ugandan girl who grows up in London without an African culture, tribe and language. Her mother was arrested as an illegal immigrant and deported. As an adult, the girl alongside her English father and a Ugandan musician she had met and fallen in love with in the UK, return to Uganda in a bid to locate the mother or her relatives.

She heads to Uganda only to be confronted with cultural shocks some of which threaten her new found love.
Adungu Tales is a production that tries to address fears and aspirations through a perspective of this young Ugandan raised in the UK. Also, we see Uganda through her boyfriend, returning to Uganda after 10 years, he no longer supports arranged marriages and he is even trying to get out of one.

That said however, Adungu Tales still comes off as more of a concept or a pitch than a full blown production. The writing lacked the details that could have made the story complete and compelling.
For a big part of the show, the main character is neither tested enough that for most of it, we are not sure if she is into the quest for the love of the man or to find her long lost family.
Worse still, she ends up sitting out her own quest as someone else does it for her – off stage. Consequently, the main purpose of the show, the seeking and the anger, is quenched off stage.

It is underwhelming; the transitions between timelines were mostly weak and hard to notice by the audience. You barely knew if many of the things were happening in the course of one day or over time, which made much of the play inaccessible.
Besides, it remains an ambitious attempt that loses itself in dance and song more than the plotline it intended to serve.

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