The events of 21st September 2013 will always be etched in our memories. That Saturday morning started bright, early and casual and no one was prepared for what would happen in the course of that weekend. When terrorists from the militia group Al- Shabaab opened fire at the Westgate Mall killing at least 67 people, the history of the country was changed. Families lost their loved ones, hundreds of people were injured and millions of Kenyans would feel nothing other than hatred for the perpetrators.
What most people don’t recall from that fateful event is the kindness and humanity shown by the civilians who washed their feet and prayed in the aisles of the Nakumatt supermarket where most of the victims died. A reminder that not all Somali people are associated with Al-Shabaab; a rationale that most people basically refuse to accept. We do not really want to look inside the mind of a terrorist and properly understand what motivates him. It may be uncomfortable, painful and worse, we may discover that in some ways we even identify with his truth.
This story is depicted in the play ‘A Man Like You’. The story that it tells illustrates the world views of two men who come from different circumstances. They hold completely different philosophies, which they discuss over the course of North’s captivity of 102 days. They debate good and evil, power and control, who is a terrorist and who is not, and what is God, and in so doing they challenge our own deeply-held views. Though Abdi and North rarely agree their basic humanity connects them, they meet at an intersection that reveals their flaws. We come to see that they are more alike than they may initially think. Both achieve a heroic struggle, and the intention of the play is to leave the audience questioning who, for them, the real hero is.
The main actors include: Somali terrorist Abdi, played by Maina Olwenya who starred as Oti in the heart gripping story of the Nairobi Half Life and has also played a role on the film The Fifth Estate, his British captive Patrick North; played by Tom Walsh, a British TV journalist, actor among others and Kenyan born and raised actress Devina Leonard who plays Elizabeth North, wife to Patrick North.
The character of Elizabeth mirrors the tension of the main action and tells the story of those left behind. Family members of hostages have frequently been described as the real victims of kidnapping, but their experience, due to the inevitable focus on the hostage, often goes untold. As she progresses from lethargy through anger and finally into acceptance we understand her journey as the basic story of almost all heroic human experience.
Silvia Cassini, playwright and director of ‘A Man Like You’ sets to bring out a story of two idealistic headstrong men who try and defend their world-views in a powerful exploration on extremism, politics and religion all set to take place in a windowless concrete room in Somalia.
The play will be in theatres around Nairobi from 1st to 12th of March thereafter in New York theatres in April.