mau mau - the opera






Some things you just can’t say no to.

When I opened Gangs & Countergangs at a photo of men and a women wielding theatrical looking weapons and dressed in thrift store clothing and, mark you, their faces blacked up? out? the word OPERA leapt into my mind.














In 1953 Kenya - a British Colony - was in a state of revolt. The indigenous people used to the utmost their traditional resources including the power of unseen forces. The British Army invented special techniques to combat resistance to settler rule. Small gangs of loyal (to the Crown) Kikuyu, or turned rebels and exceptionally adept Brits were dressed as rebels and let loose to masquerade, infiltrate, and kill. These security patrols were called pseudo or counter gangs.

Cast in order of appearance


An army Captain mid twenties. When others go drinking he runs on the beach, high minded without being priggish.


A Mau Mau leader in his thirties. Fought in Burma for the British during Second World War. Caught up in mass expulsions back to ancestral lands.


A white Kenyan in his early twenties. His father was a prisoner of war and he became used in his teenage years to running the family livestock holding. He is that rare thing, a natural killer.


A settler in her thirties or possibly older. She escaped her family in South London during the war into the WRAF where she met her flyer husband who took her to Kenya. She is unhinged by his assassination.


An independent woman in her twenties. Making her way in city life best way she can and runs the property in which lives her lodger M’jagua.


In his late teens to early twenties. Mission literacy then drifts into city life - can do conjuring tricks and has worked briefly in a radio repair shop.


A plain clothes policeman age forty to fifty with a religious bent. Chorus of street people and village people, squaddies and spectres.

Story summary

M'jagua, a young man of no direction known, is trapped by Kioni a woman of the town into the Security forces. She works through childhood playmate Morris, a settler militiaman. For M'jagua life suddenly gets serious. The patrol leader Jensen persuades him to work for the colonial power but forest leader Watchman blackmails him by threatening Kioni. His heart is not clear.

On patrol M'jagua dreams a rise to power and there is a magical transformation scene. Lifted by this he agrees to act as a go between but in the pressure house of armed conflict he dissolves and is unmasked and executed by Watchman.

Jensen, who had befriended him, finds him dying. Morris has intervened in the shoot out and plucks Kioni from danger as his prize. Jensen, torn up by M'jagua's death, has a mob of villagers kill Watchman with their farm tools.

In the finale the dead rise up and Watchman transforms into a modern day pavement vendor. 



   aesthetic perspective