The Kenya National Theatre (KNT) is the largest proscenium theatre space in Kenya. It is a government agency under the ministry of state for National Heritage and Culture in Kenya. It is based in the capital city Nairobi, bordering the historical landmarks Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC), the University of Nairobi (UON) and The Longonot Place Serviced Apartments.
KNT offers space for diverse rehearsal, production and staging of drama, live musical concerts, plays and dance, to both local and international clientele.
This historical landmark was built in the 1940s and opened in March 1951. It was during the colonial era and was initially built as a place for British soldiers, brought in to quell the Mau Mau uprising, to be entertained.
The initial design boasted of a 450 seating, a dilapidated orchestra pit in the basement, an auditorium with a curtained stage, a balcony, a bar and a restaurant on the first floor.
The theatre has undergone multi-million renovations since 2004-2015.
Currently, it is a national pride and treasure whose state of the art facilities include; a 345 seater modern auditorium, a 9 by 10 Metres proscenium performance stage, 4 fully equipped performer’s backstage changing rooms, a wardrobe room, modern dance studio, 3 rehearsal spaces, 2 seminar rooms, double shower rooms and 2 kitchenettes.
It is filled with modern lighting and sound equipment capable of meeting creative expectations of diverse technical designs.
Literary legends Ngugi wa Thiongo, Wahome Mutahi and Francis Imbuga have staged successful plays at KNT.
The first notable African professional production was by Conrad Makeni of Professor Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Ngugi wa Mirii’s play “I Will Marry When I Want” in 1982 which landed Ngugi wa Thiong’o in trouble with the authorities.
The play was banned and from then on, KNT was viewed with cautious suspicion by the government and strange men were often to be seen lurking around listening surreptitiously to patrons at the balcony.
Imbuga’s most notable work is ‘Betrayal in the City’, which was made into a secondary school set book.
Uganda’s John Ruganda, a noted playwright, director and actor, also staged his work at KNT. These include; The Burdens, The Flood, Music Without Tears and Game of Silence.
Since the refurbishment in 2015, KNT has been the venue for wonderful productions including, Jesus Christ Superstar, Grease and a re-run of Sarafina. In September this year, KNT staged the smash hit Tinga Tinga Tales produced by London’s Claudia Lloyd and our very own songwriter Eric Wainana with an all-Kenyan cast.
KNT has managed to stay relevant and authentic amidst harsh criticisms and economic times, unlike Phoenix Theatre which closed down in April 2017 over huge debts and mismanagement. It is currently associated with the most advanced equipment for theatrical productions in East and Central Africa.
It has come full circle, investing heavily on young and promising local talent. For lovers of theatre, staying with Longonot Place, you get to visit the facility which is a stone throw away. One of the many amenities that are in close proximity to our fine and strategically located apartments.
Written by: Michelle Nzilani ( Actuate Digital, Blogger)