With the United States Presidential election just weeks away, Obama the Mamba captures the fascination with the family background of the country’s first black president. The story of two half-brothers, one who becomes the President of one of the most powerful countries in the world and one who becomes the self-styled leader of a Nairobi slum may read like fiction, but it is based very much on real life.
The play is based on the true story of George Hussein Obama, the youngest son of Barack Obama senior. The play partly draws on George Obama’s autobiography, and also from the time writer Kevin Feegan spent with him in Nairobi. It charts his life non-sequentially showing him as a small-time gangster, at school, in prison and then setting up a community group in the slums.
Clifford Samuel is mesmerizing as George Hussein Obama. He makes you forget that he is the only actor, by bringing to life his family, his friends and so-called forces of order in the unordered city. Designer Shanaz Gulzar keeps the set simple with a platform made of wooden slats and orange sand, leaving the images to Feegan, Samuel and director Kully Thiarai. As Samuel becomes the voice of the people around him, and describes each scene with his actions, you start to see Kenya through George Obama’s eyes.
There are some subtle and humorous similarities between the two brothers ‘worlds apart’; George’s rousing cry to his football team speaks of ‘hope’ with a passion worthy of a President. Barack Obama himself makes just two fleeting appearances, but then again it is not his play. Obama the Mamba belongs to George Hussein Obama. It tells us that while there are some things you can do to control your destiny, it is mostly governed by the hand that fate deals you.