A World History of Black Theatre

This section is created to show examples of African theatre across the world.
Afro-Swedish theatre history to be updated.

The minstrel shows of the early 19th century are believed by some to be the roots of African American theatre, but they initially were written by whites, acted by whites in blackface, and performed for white audiences. After the American Civil War, they began to perform in minstrel shows (then called “Ethiopian minstrelsy”), and by the turn of the 20th century, they were producing black musicals, many of which were written, produced, and acted entirely by blacks.

The first known play by an African American was James Brown’s King Shotaway (1823). William Wells Brown’s The Escape; or, A Leap for Freedom (1858) was the first African American play published, but the first real success of a black dramatist was Angelina W. Grimké’s Rachel (1916).

African American theatre flourished during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and ’30s. Experimental groups and black theatre companies emerged in Chicago, New York City, and Washington, D.C. Among these was the Ethiopian Art Theatre, which established Paul Robeson as America’s foremost black actor. Garland Anderson’s play Appearances (1925) was the first play of black authorship to be produced on Broadway, but black theatre did not create a Broadway hit until Langston Hughes’s Mulatto (1935) won wide acclaim. In that same year the Federal Theatre Project was founded, providing a training ground for blacks. In the late 1930s, African American community theatres began to appear, revealing talents such as those of Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee.

By 1940 black theatre was firmly grounded in the “American Negro Theater” and the Negro Playwrights’ Company.

After World War II black theatre grew more progressive, more radical, and more militant, reflecting the ideals of black revolution and seeking to establish a mythology and symbolism apart from white culture. Councils were organized to abolish the use of racial stereotypes in theatre and to integrate African American playwrights into the mainstream of American dramaturgy. Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun (1959) and other successful black plays of the 1950s portrayed the difficulty of maintaining an identity in a society where you were often degraded.

In the 1960s there was the emergence of a new African American theatre movement, which reflected the political and social conditions in contrast to its predecessors. Amiri Baraka (originally LeRoi Jones) was one of its strongest proponents. Baraka’s plays, including the award-winning Dutchman (1964), depicted whites’ exploitation of blacks. He established the Black Arts Repertory Theatre in Harlem in 1965 and inspired playwright Ed Bullins and others seeking to create a strong “black aesthetic” in American theatre.

During the 1980s and ’90s August Wilson, Suzan-Lori Parks, and George Wolfe were among the most important creators of black theatre. Their plays celebrated the history of the Black/African American experience in the arts and culture at different points in US history.

Reference Source
: Encyclopedia Britannica


+Zimbabwe part I
Theatre in Zimbabwe, as elsewhere in Africa, has long roots in community ceremonial dance and praise ceremonies. It is, in fact, difficult to distinguish between poetry, dance, music, and theatre in its traditional mould. The performance was but a portion of these communal events, participation was as important, and blurred the lines between performers and audience. Nor did performance take place in a vacuum. It was given meaning and place by the cyclic changes in the community.

With independence and its socialist agenda of social transformation and education, the traditional theatre inspired a modern kind of performance, where participation was still an essential feature, but in a setting where the distinction between performer and audience was beginning to be clear. Zimbabwe became one of the testing fields for an ambitious community theatre movement, in which a central figure was Ngugi wa Mirii in exile from Kenya, where together with Ngugi wa Thiong’o he had worked with the Kamarithu theatre, which was closed down by the Kenyan government.

The theatre movement has gone a long way since it started, as Praise Zenenga, who is writing his doctoral thesis at Northwestern University in the US, tells us. Some of the crucial questions are the dependence on NGO funding, the participation of the communities, and the issue of charging for entrance tickets.

The community theatre movement has given rise to some institutional theatre companies, which often perform scripted plays. The best known is Amakhosi from Bulawayo, which under Cont Mhlanga’s leadership has been developed into a vibrant, professional group.

In 2002, Amakhosi, who had produced many plays critical of social and political developments, accepted an offer to have a weekly show on national TV. Amakhosi rejected all criticism of this decision by saying that they had always clamoured for more mass media exposure for good theatre.

Another professional group is Rooftop theatre in Harare, led by Dave Gutsha. Walter Mapurutsa has been associated with Rooftop, both as actor and director. In 2002 he played a one-man show, called “Rags and Garbage”, where he, as a homeless town fool, was able to put both ZANU-PF and the MDC to task. Setting up a mock interview he asked the first president what his story was, and got the answer: Land. And more? More land. Then he turned to Tsangvirai, and asked the same. Change, was the reply. And more? More change. Norman Takawira (who tragically died in 2003) had a long history of involvement in theatre and was a writer of several radio plays. He was one of those professionals that every arts sector needs, and could confidently say ìI know how to create jobs, and how to find jobs.

Nigerian theatre, variety of folk opera of the Yoruba people of southwestern Nigeria that emerged in the early 1940s. It combined a brilliant sense of mime, colourful costumes, and traditional drumming, music, and folklore. Directed toward a local audience, it uses Nigerian themes, ranging from modern-day satire to historical tragedy. Although the plays are performed entirely in the Yoruba language, they may be understood and appreciated by speakers of other languages with the aid of a translated synopsis.

Nigerian theatre deals with three types of themes: the fantastic folktale, the farcical social satire, and the historical or mythological account derived from oral tradition. Generally speaking, both text and music evolved from a synthesis of liturgies from different religious sects.

Although there are more than a dozen travelling theatre companies, three professional troupes are particularly notable: those of Hubert Ogunde (author of Yoruba ronu [“Yorubas, Think!”] and Journey to Heaven); Kola Ogunmola (The Palmwine Drinkard and Love of Money); and Duro Ladipo (Oba koso [“The King Did Not Hang”] and Eda [“Everyman”]). Each of these troupes has created a distinctive style shaped by the tastes of its founder, who generally writes or adapts and produces the plays, arranges the music, and performs the leading roles. This contemporary dramatic form grew out of biblical episodes in Christmas and Passion plays presented by African separatist churches in the 1930s and ’40s. Some of these plays have been performed abroad, notably, Oba koso and The Palmwine Drinkard.



+Zimbabwe pt II
In 1945 Ogunde was the first to establish a professional touring company. Some of his plays are satires on Yoruba types: the jealous husband, the stingy father, the reckless son. Others deal with topical events in Nigerian politics.

In 1947 Ogunmola organized some of his pupils into an acting troupe, forming his own Theatre Party. Ogunmola’s operas reveal a Christian influence in the use of biblical material for the basic plots. Ogunmola employs folklore by incorporating praise poetry, proverbs, and incantations into the dialogue, as evidenced in his celebrated production of Amos Tutuola’s novel The Palm-Wine Drinkard.

In the early 1960s Ladipo, a composer of church music who wished to preserve the traditional arts, wrote cultural plays based on historical material. While he was no doubt influenced by his predecessors, Ladipo employed ceremonial drumming, chanting, and singing as well as traditional costume appropriate to specific historical or religious groups represented in his productions. Some of Ladipo’s actors had performed in religious rituals before joining the theatre company; thus, their ceremonial material was incorporated within a contemporary mold.

African theatre, effectively, the theatre of Africa south of the Sahara that emerged in the post-colonial era—that is to say, from the mid-20th century onward.

It is not possible to talk of much African theatre as if it fell into discrete historical or national patterns. Colonial boundaries ignored cultural and linguistic unities, and ancient movements throughout the continent—sometimes motivated by trade (including the transatlantic slave trade), religion, or exploration—brought different ethnic groups into contact with each other and often influenced performance in a manner that is still evident in the 21st century. It is also important not to divide the theatre into “traditional” and “modern,” as the contemporary literary theatre—predominantly written and performed in English, French, and Portuguese—exists alongside festivals, rituals, cultural performances, and popular indigenous theatre.

The richness of theatre in Africa lies very much in the interaction of all these aspects of performance. The broad subheadings under which theatre in Africa is considered should, therefore, be seen as an aid to access rather than as representing definite boundaries. This article aims to sketch the broadest patterns of work and highlight some landmarks in dealing with the extensive continent-wide theatrical activity.

Anglophone West Africa

The countries of Ghana, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone (and to a lesser extent The Gambia), plus the English-speaking areas of Cameroon, have produced a theatre of great richness since their political independence. They are examined individually below. (Throughout the article, dates in parentheses are dates of publication rather than first performance, except where noted.)

Ghana produced two of Africa’s most-accomplished women playwrights, Efua Sutherland and Ama Ata Aidoo.

Sutherland’s plays were written in Akan and in English. Foriwa (first performed in 1962) and Edufa (first performed 1962) dealt with political issues relevant to the challenges of independence. The Marriage of Anansewa (1975) is a witty but still politically relevant comedy in a form she described as anansegoro—that is to say, the creation in dramatic form of anansesem, the stories about Ananse the spider man, trickster, and entertainer. Sutherland was active as a director and created the Ghana Drama Studio in Accra to explore traditional performance spaces and styles. She is also known for plays she wrote for children such as Vulture! Vulture! and Tahinta (both 1968).

Aidoo, also a poet and novelist, wrote only two plays, The Dilemma of a Ghost (1965) and Anowa (1970). Both, however, are works of great stature.

The Dilemma of a Ghost is concerned with the arrival in Africa of a black American woman married to a Ghanaian and the struggle she has in coming to terms with her cultural past and with her new home. An unspoken but powerful presence in the play is the legacy of slavery, a theme that is more fully explored in Anowa. That play—based on a legendary source concerning a beautiful young woman who marries a handsome stranger—is a remarkable exploration of Ghanaian history, both colonial and postcolonial, with a powerful indictment of the temptations to which contemporary politicians succumb. With those two plays Aidoo established herself as a major presence in African theatre.

J.C. (Joe) de Graft’s plays Sons and Daughters (1964) and the harsher Through a Film Darkly (1970) explored domestic problems. They are good examples of the theme of “the clash of cultures” that was commonplace in much African writing in the years surrounding independence when a new young, educated elite confronted what were thought to be old-fashioned traditional attitudes. De Graft also wrote and staged adaptations of Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Hamlet. In the 1970s de Graft moved to teach in East Africa, where he wrote and produced his play Muntu (1975).

A number of other playwrights should be noted, including Martin Owusu (with The Mightier Sword, 1973, and The Sudden Return, 1973), Asiedu Yirenkyi (Kivuli, 1980; Blood and Tears, 1973), and Kwesi Kay (Hubbub in the House, 1972). Those plays variously concern themselves with the tensions and temptations of modern urban life.

Another important Ghanaian playwright is Mohammed Ben-Abdallah. His Land of a Million Magicians (1993), inspired by Bertolt Brecht’s The Good Woman of Setzuan (1943), is a work of considerable theatrical scale and dramatic power.

Ghana’s Concert Party theatre—a traveling performance troupe with a repertoire of broad comedies and social satires—flourished in the earlier part of the 20th century and continued in its popularity and ingenuity into the 21st century. Concert Party theatre complemented the literary theatre with its particular kind of social commentary and its inventive use of both traditional and modern forms of entertainment.

+Nigeria part I
Nigeria stands out in the continent for the vigour and range of its theatre.The rich cultural heritage of the nation, particularly of the south, made performance the natural means for political debate, social cohesion, celebration, and lament. The Nigerian playwright has grown up in a world where theatre literally takes place on the street, in the performances of such masquerade figures as the Egungun, or the festivals relating to trades, crafts, or seasonal rhythms, marriages and funerals. A vibrant tradition of popular theatre (such as the Yoruba opera) was also a resource that the literary playwright could be inspired by and draw upon.

Popular theatre practitioners such as Hubert Ogunde, writing in Yoruba, created biblical and political dramas that toured the country in trucks, performing in hotel yards or community halls to enthusiastic audiences, with lavish ingredients of song, dance, and spectacle. Two titles of plays by Ogunde indicate the range of his writing: The Garden of Eden and the Throne of God (1944) and Bread and Bullet (1950). Duro Ladipo was also an accomplished Yoruba opera artist, with sophisticated theatrical re-creations of Yoruba history and myth (Oba Koso, 1963, and Oba Waja, 1964) and an extraordinary version of Austrian author Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s Jedermann (Everyman), called Eda (1970).

In the mid-1960s the Kola Ogunmola company, in conjunction with the Nigerian theatre designer Demas Nwoko, had great success with an adaptation of Amos Tutuola’s novel The Palm-Wine Drinkard. In addition to the troupes led by Ogunde, Ladipo, and Ogunmola, numerous other Yoruba theatre companies enjoyed great success well into the 1980s, though they were gradually overtaken by the popularity of videos for consumption at home, which diminished their audiences. The Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, Africa’s leading playwright, acknowledged the influence of such artists as Ogunde upon his work, and modern Nigerian theatre also owes a debt to James Ene Henshaw, whose well-crafted popular plays (This Is Our Chance, first performed 1948, published 1956; and Medicine for Love, 1964) can be seen as the beginnings of a literary drama.

Soyinka himself was part of a group of young playwrights who established their reputations in the years immediately before and after Nigeria gained its independence in 1960 and who are recognized as the formative creators of modern Nigerian theatre. Others were J.P. Clark (later known as J.P. Clark-Bekedemero), Ola Rotimi, and Zulu Sofola. Soyinka maintained a strong theatrical output from the late 1950s (with two plays, The Lion and the Jewel, first performed 1959, published 1963; and The Swamp Dwellers, 1958, partly developed when he was associated with George Devine’s young writers group at the Royal Court Theatre, London) well into the 21st century (with King Baabu, 2002, and Alápatà Àpáta, 2011). Soyinka’s first major play was his alternative contribution to the independence celebrations, A Dance of the Forests, first performed 1960, staged by the company he formed on his return to Nigeria, the 1960 Masks.

Unlike many of the anodyne celebrations of nationhood, Soyinka’s play brings ancestors to life to comment shrewdly on both the past and the present. In many ways that complex though (literally) fantastic play may be seen as a source for much of his later work. Soyinka’s main weapon was satire, from The Trials of Brother Jero (first performed 1960, published 1963) to King Baabu, which was loosely based on Alfred Jarry’s farcical Ubu Roi. In Opera Wonyosi (first performed 1977) he draws on Bertolt Brecht’s satirical musical drama The Threepenny Opera (1928).

Soyinka’s career—fragmented by imprisonment without trial during the Nigerian civil war and subsequent exile—has produced a range of major plays, some dealing with what he saw as the bizarre antics of African leaders (Kongi’s Harvest, first performed 1966; A Play of Giants, first performed 1984; The Beatification of Area Boy, 1995) and others with the clash between the spiritual and the mortal world (The Strong Breed, first performed 1963; The Road, 1965; Death and the King’s Horseman, 1975—the latter widely regarded as his finest play) and fierce personal assaults on tyranny (Madmen and Specialists, 1971; From Zia, with Love, 1992).

Clark’s first play, Song of a Goat (1964), was staged in the Mbari arts centre in Ibadan in a production directed by Soyinka. One of a group of three plays published together—the others being The Masquerade and The Raft—Song of a Goat explored Clark’s native world of the Rivers area of the Niger River delta. His atmospheric and poetic style and his attraction to family sagas distinguish Clark’s playwriting. The Bikoroa Plays (first performed 1981), a cycle of three full-length plays, follows the fortunes of a Rivers family, and another family-centred drama, All for Oil (2000), combines Clark’s dedication to his family and region with contemporary political commentary. Perhaps the most significant of Clark’s plays is his 1966 version of the epic Ijo saga Ozidi—a seven-day community festival. Later, in 1977, Clark was to record and translate into English an oral version of the saga, but his rich play drawn from this fascinating source is not only a powerful drama in its own terms but also an informative introduction to the imaginative dramaturgy of traditional festivals.


+Nigeria Part II
With The Disturbed Peace of Christmas in 1971, Sofola became the first woman playwright to establish herself in Nigeria. Wedlock of the Gods (1972) and King Emene (1974) are two of several plays that explore the strains imposed upon traditional values; other plays have drawn criticism because of a perceived social conservatism in Sofola’s attitude.

Of the quartet of early playwrights, the one who best compares to Soyinka is Rotimi. His first major play, The Gods Are Not to Blame (first performed 1968), is a reworking in Nigerian terms of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex. It immediately established Rotimi’s stature as a theatrical craftsman. He worked generally on a large scale, incorporating many different ethnic influences in the performance structure of his plays (in terms of song, dance, language, etc.). He also was deeply concerned with the dynamics between actor and audience, going so far in that respect as to design his own performance spaces, of which the most significant was the Ori Olokun centre in Ife, western Nigeria.

Rotimi’s themes were always political and often were based in the re-creation of incidents of Nigerian history: Kurunmi (first performed 1969) deals with the internecine wars of the Yoruba in the 19th century. Ovonramwen Nogbaisi (first performed 1971) treats the British colonial punitive expedition to Benin. Hopes of the Living Dead (first performed 1985) examines the struggle in the 1920s for the dignified treatment for lepers. Akassa You Mi (2001)—published posthumously—presents the 1895 conflict between the Nembe people and the Royal Niger Company.

Whatever the historical reference, however, Rotimi draws a contemporary parallel. The radical power of his playwriting is also evident in the pessimistic play If: A Tragedy of the Ruled (1983), though a sense of satiric fun is also seen in Our Husband Has Gone Mad Again (1977) and Holding Talks (1979). Rotimi had formal training in playwriting at Boston and Yale universities, and that training is reflected in his workmanship, but he created a very personal style of theatre, richly inventive and experimental. He was a dynamic director of his own work, forming at Ife the Ori Olokun Acting Company and later the African Cradle Theatre (ACT).

The example of the four playwrights mentioned above created an explosion of theatrical activity in Nigeria. A strong radical voice—both in content and in form—was established by, among others, playwrights such as Bode Sowande (Farewell to Babylon, 1979; Flamingo, 1986; Tornadoes Full of Dreams, 1990); Olu Obafemi (Nights of a Mystical Beast, 1986; Suicide Syndrome, 1987; Naira Has No Gender, 1993); Tunde Fatunde (No Food, No Country, 1985; Oga Na Tief-Man, 1986); and Segun Oyekunle (Katakata for Sofahead, 1983). A significant element of much of the new radical work was the use of pidgin—a language of mass communication accessible to a much wider audience than the educated elite. The plays of actor and director Wale Ogunyemi should also be noted—dramas based in Yoruba lore and history, as well as an ingenious adaptation of Macbeth (Aare Akogun, 1969).

Two other major figures emerged in the latter part of the 20th century—Tess Onwueme and Femi Osofisan. Onwueme’s early plays were based on domestic incidents, but she became more adventurous with political allegories (The Desert Encroaches, 1985; Ban Empty Barn, 1986), and—after a move to teach in the U.S.—her work expanded in range and ambition with strong feminist dramas, often with an evangelistic edge. They include The Reign of Wazobia (1988), Tell It to Women (1994), The Missing Face (1997), Shakara: Dance-Hall Queen (2000), and Then She Said It (2002). Osofisan, however, is the colossus of Nigerian theatre in terms of output and popularity over the last decades of the 20th century. His plays have been frequently staged in Nigeria and Ghana, and in Britain and the U.S. His dramaturgy is characterized by provocative open-endings, as in Once upon Four Robbers (first performed 1978), where, at the end, the audience is asked to vote on whether the armed robbers should be punished or released.

Osofisan also reworks other texts either—if they are Nigerian—as a critique of an earlier generation (No More the Wasted Breed, 1982, in response to Soyinka’s The Strong Breed, 1963; Another Raft, 1988, commenting on Clark’s The Raft, 1964) or, if international, as a vehicle for his own interpretation of contemporary events (among them, Who’s Afraid of Solarin?, 1978, from Russian writer Nikolay Gogol’s The Government Inspector, 1836; Tegonni: An African Antigone, 1999; Women of Owu, 2006, from Euripides’ Trojan Women, 415 bce). Major plays include The Chattering and the Song (first performed 1976) and Morountodun (1982), both examples of Osofisan’s radical political agenda, and a play about former nationalist leader of Ghana Kwame Nkrumah in exile—Nkrumah-ni…Africa-ni! (1999). Osofisan said that he wished to speak to a young educated audience, as he felt that they were the people who could revolutionize society. He was hugely productive, with well over 20 plays to his name. His robust plays are often crusading but are always inventive and entertaining and engaging with real issues: he may be regarded as one of the leading African dramatists of the 20th century.

+Sierra Leone
Theatre in Sierra Leone tends to be concentrated in the capital, Freetown. Two plays by R. Sarif Easmon, Dear Parent and Ogre (1964) and The New Patriots (1965), dealt—in a rather stilted way—with concerns of the newly emancipated elite.

A major initiative was the creation of a Krio language drama, particularly through the work of linguist and writer Thomas Decker, who in the 1960s translated Julius Caesar and As You Like It (as Udat di kiap fit) into the language that is widely spoken in the country.

Other playwrights—significantly Yulisa Amadu Maddy, Juliana John (with Na Mami Bohn Am, 1968, and I Dey I Noh Du, 1969), and Dele Charley—took Krio language drama into a more-contemporary political sphere. Charley, who founded the Tabule Experimental Theatre in 1968, had great success with Titi Shine Shine (1970) and The Blood of a Stranger (first performed 1975).

Maddy, author of one of the most-successful contemporary plays, Big Berin (1976), and a writer-director committed to bringing traditional performance elements of dance and music into his plays to complement their realistic down-to-earth concerns, set up Gbakanda Tiata also in 1968. Songhai Theatre staged plays in Krio and English by its founders the playwrights Clifford Garber and John Kolosa Kargbo, and the Balanga Dramatic group was established in the mid-1970s.

Julius Spencer, playwright and director, formed Spence Productions in 1989, and Charlie Haffner formed the Freetong Players in 1985. Pampana Communications Drama Company was formed by the young playwrights Mohamed Sheriff and Oumarr Farauk Sesay in 1993.

Since the 1960s more than 20 other companies have been formed, often centred around one playwright or director, giving evidence of the vibrant theatrical culture of Freetown.

Cameroon is a predominantly French-speaking country, but it has a strong English-language theatre. Sankie Maimo established his reputation in 1959 with I Am Vindicated and wrote regularly into the 1990s.

Victor Eleame Musinga is an established popular theatre practitioner, and Bate Besong and Hansel Ndumbe Eyoh made important contributions to English-language theatre.
But the most-substantial Anglophone playwright is Bole Butake, whose plays have a strong political presence and deal with contemporary events. Foremost among them are The Rape of Michelle (1984), Lake God (1986), The Survivors (1989), And Palm-Wine Will Flow (1990), and Shoes and Four Men in Arms (1994).


In much of East Africa, especially Kenya, pre independence theatre was largely in the hands of the white settlers and reflected their tastes.

Nairobi had a resident repertory theatre producing West End hits. Only an enterprising schools drama competition—which increasingly opened itself up to all races—offered a vehicle for indigenous writing and concerns. The often-violent struggle for independence in Kenya and elsewhere produced a powerful protest theatre, and it was carried on into independence where the drama increasingly articulated the struggle against what was seen as neocolonial government. The major figure of Kenyan theatre is Ngugi wa Thiong’o, also distinguished as a novelist, who wrote originally as James Ngugi.

His early short plays—The Black Hermit (first performed 1962) and This Time Tomorrow (first performed 1968)—explore the immediate post-independent scene with increasing pessimism, but it was with The Trial of Dedan Kimathi (1976; written with Micere Githae Mugo) that Ngugi’s stature as a dramatist became clear. The eponymous hero was a leader of the Mau Mau revolution against the colonial forces, eventually captured and executed. The play imagines his trial and confronts Kimathi with symbolic representatives of both the colonial and the neocolonial world, from ordinary unpoliticized British soldiers urged to see their common cause against exploitation to bankers, collaborators, and priests representative of the new oppression. Two children symbolize the idealistic hopes for a better future for Kenya, with a particular strength given to the girl.

The play with its imaginative pseudodocumentary style and use of militant song and dance (reminiscent of the subversive use of those elements in the struggle for independence) is one of the major political works of the modern African theatre. Ngugi originally wrote in English but later, seeing English as a language that “colonized the mind,” reverted to his native Kikuyu, with subsequent translation into English.

This was the case with his 1977 play Ngaahika Ndeenda (I Will Marry When I Want) written with Ngugi wa Mirii. The play was created with Kikuyu performers at the Kamiriithu Arts Centre, based in a settlement for agricultural workers, and gave voice to the perceived betrayal of workers by local landowners and politicians, again using rich elements of indigenous song and dance to articulate its protest. The popular success of that work caused it to be banned by the authorities, and Ngugi was detained. When, upon his release, the same two writers collaborated again in 1982 with the Kamiriithu community to produce Maitu Njugira (Mother Sing to Me)—another play about colonial oppression that the independent Kenyan government significantly took as an attack upon itself—the authorities clamped down on the play and razed the open-air theatre to the ground. Ngugi went into exile.

Micere Githae Mugo was also a playwright in her own right, championing the role of women in the independence struggle (Daughter of My People, Sing!, 1976). Kenneth Watene with My Son for My Freedom (1973) and Dedan Kimathi (1974) wrote about the experiences of the Kikuyu people in the Mau Mau “emergency.” Francis Imbuga wrote a series of satirical plays of social comment in the 1970s (The Fourth Trial, 1972; The Married Bachelor, 1973; and Betrayal in the City, 1976), and from the 1990s onward a series of theatre companies were formed (Sarakasi Ltd., Miujiza Players, etc.) that concentrated on new plays in indigenous languages, often drawing upon traditional stories.

Oppressive censorship made free expression in the Kenyan theatre difficult after the violent response of the authorities to Kamiriithu’s initiatives.