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Four One One

Lukoma unveils theatrical side

Kalulanga and Lukoma in action. Photo | Andrew Kaggwa

When Hellen Lukoma first launched herself on the Ugandan entertainment scene, she was part of the dance and later music outfit, Obsessions.

Apparently, she must have been about 15 or 16 years old, a student and often missed performances when school resumed or when she had exams.

At the time, Obsessions staged a number of theatre productions that were mostly musicals. Was Lukoma involved, yes, but never did she hold the titular role.

Then she left Obsessions, joined Brenda Bambi, also a former Obsessions member and formed HB Toxic, and the two later separated and she became a solo artist and bonafide actor. Much as Lukoma has released some memorable songs over the years, it is her characters in TV series that people still talk about for years.

For example, from her role as Hellen Mutungi in Beneath the Lies, then Patra in The Hostel, to Paris in Beloved, Lukoma has a way with roles and she keeps giving. That is the same spirit she carried to her first role on stage in years.

Lukoma stars as Jennifer in Fred Kalulanga’s play The Love List which premiered at the National Theatre on Friday.

The play follows a dysfunctional couple who are putting on a strong and exemplary couple image but things always turn to the worst even in ways that are not expected.

But there are a couple of layers to the adult comedy. First, the production gets its name from an illustrious list the couple created, the abuse, the lies and of course the ambiguity of the whole thing.

For instance, the play takes place in New York, a city naturally known for not sleeping, however, there is an ambiguity of the time all this is happening. From one scene to the next, we are not sure of the timing, whether it is morning, evening or afternoon, thus it is hard questioning some of the decisions being taken by the actors. For instance, why do they seem to be having wine all the time?

Then there is the ambiguity of our two characters. Were they immigrants in a foreign land or Americans?

And the sheer reason of why now? Had their relationship been better and got worse by the time the show starts? What turned a good relationship bad or a bad one worse?

With many questions unanswered, you could say the play had a few but visible plotholes.

Besides those though, it is a fantastic take on relationships. Our couple, Jennifer and Jack love each other but at the same time are not good for each other.

Jack, acted by Kalulanga does not trust Jennifer as much that at one point requests to check her phone. On the other hand, Jennifer seems to pick a fight out of every existing situation. Though this changes towards the end when Jack starts picking fights for the sake of it.

This is probably one of Lukoma’s strongest performances, both on and off stage. Over the years, she has managed to capture mean girl characters, so rarely had the opportunity to dig into her emotional side. This production takes her there, and she handles it amazingly and her co actor has similar energy.

That said, the play felt a bit incomplete; both characters did not feel tested enough, and none of them seemed to get a chance at redemption but it was entertaining and engaging.

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