'Tropical Fish' play comes to Kampala

Saturday October 16 2021
Esteri Tebandeke

Esteri Tebandeke who plays Christine in the adaptation of Doreen Baingana’s Tropical Fish. PHOTO | DANIEL MUWANGUZI


The award-winning short story Tropical Fish, by Ugandan author Doreen Baingana, has been adapted for the stage as a solo performance by Tebere Arts Foundation.

Tropical Fish navigates the uncertain terrain of adolescence and progression to adulthood. It tackles the universal themes of family cohesion, sex and relationships, disease, betrayal, spirituality and economic exploitation.

The play is directed by Mshai Mwangola and Sarah Nansubuga, and produced by Asiimwe Deborah Kawe and Kenneth Kimuli.

The producing artistic director at the Tebere Arts Foundation, Asiimwe said: “We were allowed a very small audience number due to Covid-19 standard operating procedures, and we feel that giving people another option to see the play online is not only necessary but important, as this is going to be the future of live performance.”

Tropical Fish traces the life of Christine (played by Esteri Tebandeke and Lulu Jemimah), a young college girl’s discovery of the power of her sexuality in an affair with an older white businessman called Peter.

“I don’t think that I have seen a play in Uganda by a Ugandan that puts a woman’s body and her inner struggles at the forefront like Doreen does in Tropical Fish. For me, that’s why it was important for Tebere Arts Foundation to support it,” Asiimwe said.


Convenient relationship

Christine and Peter’s relationship was more about convenience than true intimacy. When Peter leaves Uganda, she is left with a cigarette lighter plus good and bad memories.

Christine is not a happy woman because her economic and intimate needs have not been met. What started off as a fun escape from her ordinary life and dull future becomes a painful exploration of her worth as a black woman. What does she lose in exchange for “bubble baths and a gin-and-tonic life”?

“I am very pleased that my short story has come alive,” says Baingana, a widely-published, award-winning writer.

“It has been properly scripted, directed and performed. I am grateful that even under the current circumstances we have come up with this story.

“In this short story I wanted to portray the role of girls as sex objects. Why do people come together? What do the girl and Peter want in this story? Are you being abused? It explores gender dynamics in society. Attitudes against women haven’t changed since I wrote this short story,” she added.

Asiimwe says Tropical Fish is a generational story across all societies.

“For as long as classism, racism, sexism, economic and social disparities exist, this will always be a relevant story,” she said.

“In Uganda, and I think globally, we are yet to confront the question of women’s bodies — black women’s bodies — and the way they are sexualised. This is a conversation that needs to be had in public spaces. Pretending that things like what Christine talks about don’t exist doesn’t take them away. I’d rather we confront them, have a conversation about them” Asiimwe, who is also the artistic director at the Kampala International Theatre Festival, added.

The play opened at the Ndere Centre in Kampala on October 15, and will run until October 17, then move to the Capital Palace Hotel on October 22.

Tickets cost Ush30,000 ($8.3).