George Hussein Obama is a ‘one man crime wave, a bad-ass gangster’ operating in Nairobi’s notorious Huruma slums.
They are half-brothers with the same father – Barack Hussein Obama Snr who played virtually no part in either son’s upbringing.
Obama the Mamba opened at Curve’s Studio on Friday night (October 12) and tells George Obama’s story as self-styled President of the Slums. It is based on the autobiography Homeland by George and Damien Lewis (as an interesting coincidence, the writer Damien Lewis is not to be confused with the actor Damien Lewis who stars in Homeland currently showing on Channel 4). Kevin Fegan’s play is based on this autobiography and takes the audience through some of the key events in George’s (Clifford Samuel) life.
The publicity for the play mentions the ‘accident of birth’ of the two half-brothers; one President of the United States who enjoyed privileges and opportunities, the other fighting for his life and his people in the ghettos of Kenya.
This monologue was a tough challenge for Samuel, on stage for an hour and three quarters without an interval and sharing the space, somewhat incongruously, with a bassist (Michael Searl). The accompanying music was rather distracting and didn’t seem to fit with the African background music although using the bass’s body as a drum did add atmosphere.
Samuel’s portrayal of George was charismatic and confident with subtle changes in pace and intensity throughout. The sense of place and George’s identity were enhanced by the creative backdrop photographs by designer Shanaz Gulzar, with the sand and wooden frame providing a simplistic set, but again reflective of place. The scenes depicting the occasions when Barack and George met were charming and showed how George, whilst in awe of his older sibling, also seemed quite happy with his life in Kenya.
Whilst one could reflect on the differences between George and Barack and how their lives seem literally worlds apart, it was also interesting to consider their similarities; both men are engaging and prepared to fight for what they feel is right. George is described as a gangster (his gang name Mamba is Swahili for crocodile) yet he has been involved in several projects to help the children who, through an accident of birth, find themselves growing up in dangerous and shocking ghettos.
Although about twenty minutes overlong this engaging piece creates interesting portraits of two quite different leaders.