The purpose of this website is to preserve the institutional memory of Nairobi City Players (NCP) and provide an online forum for people associated with NCP to interact and share memories of their times treading the boards; helping out backstage or supporting the work of NCP in other ways. A complementary Facebook group will be set up in 2021 and integrated with the website.
The idea for an NCP archival website grew out of a casual conversation at the bowling green of Muthaiga Country Club, Nairobi in early August 2020 when Kenya was in partial lockdown in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Those present were Sheila (McKnight) Barker, Mike Craig, Gerry Cunningham, Gail (Goodman) Langton and Lesley Mullan, all of whom had some association with NCP during various periods from the early 1960s through to 2014.
Gerry Cunningham mentioned that he had scanned over 4,000 family photos during the lockdown period (March-July 2020) and had also included school reports, school yearbooks and NCP programmes in his electronic archive. He suggested that as NCP brought together many people from different backgrounds over the decades to provide theatrical entertainment to Nairobi audiences, a website showcasing NCP memorabilia would be an appropriate way to preserve the institutional memory of NCP, which officially closed down as amateur theatre group in 2017 having ceased to stage productions in 2014.
Brenda Goodman and Mary Epsom were then approached to see what NCP memorabilia they had retained by way of old photos, programmes and newspaper clippings. It soon emerged that Mary Epsom had two cubic meter boxes full of NCP memorabilia covering the period 1956-2014. Mary very kindly granted unlimited access to her archive. This small number of Nairobi-based NCP associates formed the nucleus of the project development team and the core group of providers of NCP memorabilia for the website.
Gerry McCrudden, who had been involved in setting up a website for the New Venture Theatre in Brighton, U.K. offered valuable guidance on the structure and style of a theatrical website and put the core group in contact with others in the U.K. who were associated with NCP in the past. Hugh Epsom also provided an example of another theatrical website in Javea, Spain.
The Project Manager, Gerry Cunningham, started work on the coordination, content development and technical aspects of the website. He started scanning NCP memorabilia from around mid-August 2020 and that exercise is ongoing. Gail Langton and Mary Epsom provided contact information for NCP associates that should be engaged with the project. Jacqui Mason and Jenny Dunnet then came on board to provide information on NCP during the 1996-2014 era when NCP vacated the Kenya National Theatre and staged subsequent productions at Muthaiga Country Club.
By early October 2020, a larger group styling itself as the Friends of NCP, had coalesced and additional content providers were identified. Nick Donne, who was involved in organising the 2007 NCP reunion in the U.K. had a larger contact list and kindly assumed the role of Communications Manager for the project. Nick started reaching out to NCP associates scattered around the world to compile one comprehensive contact list. Gerry Cunningham identified a web design company in Nairobi to set up the NCP website and Smart Web Kenya is now responsible for the technical work on the site and its future maintenance. The website will be updated on a continuous basis as additional content, particularly photos from private collections and newspaper reviews, becomes available. The structure and style of the website has been kept simple and coherent so that users can access the information they need in three mouse clicks or less.
A Welcome Message to the website has been kindly provided by Mary Epsom. Mary’s late husband, Bryan Epsom, was an iconic figure on the Kenyan theatre scene and a driving force behind NCP, being one of the four founding members of NCP in 1956. The other three were Noreen Antrobus, John Ebdon and Donald Whittle. Mary’s message provides a valuable insight on the origins and evolution of NCP.
The website is primarily a photographic archive showcasing NCP productions from 1956 to 2014. This substantial archive may be found under the menu heading Past Productions (1956-2014) and is by far the largest component of the website. The productions, which number over 150, are presented chronologically in a master index under three headings – date, title and name of producer/director. Over 90 sets of publicity or ‘front of house’ photos and production programmes have been digitised, along with a small number of photos from private collections.
For each NCP production, the digitised information is presented under a minimum of 4 and a maximum of 8 categories, in the following order:
- Front cover of programme
- Dramatis Personae
- Photos – publicity (i.e. front of house)
- Photos – other (from private collections, programme, newspapers, etc)
- Reviews (from local newspapers)
- Sponsor adverts (a small selection only)
- Other memorabilia (posters, memos, costume plans, set design, etc)
The Offstage menu item is intended to recognise the hard work and dedication of all those people who laboured behind the scenes for all of NCP’s productions. Their collective contributions enabled NCP to present a wide range of productions spanning musicals, light opera, pantomime, serious drama and comedy that brought enjoyment to theatregoers of all ages.
Mary Epsom took on the challenge of writing a comprehensive account of her unstinting work on designing and overseeing the making of costumes for almost all of the productions staged by NCP from 1960 to 1993. Mary’s narrative is complemented by Suman Bhadresa, the son of the NCP tailor P.D. Bhadresa, who made the costumes for a great many productions – not only for NCP but other Kenyan theatre groups as well. Much more needs to be written on the offstage aspects of NCP’s work (set design & construction, sound &lighting, publicity & sponsorship, etc) that enabled NCP to stage an impressive number of diverse and ambitious productions that brought considerable enjoyment to audiences not only in Nairobi but across Kenya.
The main challenge that lies ahead is to write the definitive history of Nairobi City Players. For the time being, snippets of NCP’s history are presented under the menu item History of NCP 1956-2017. Fortunately, the website project has been catalytic in identifying items of memorabilia that are valuable inputs towards compiling a definitive history of NCP at a later stage. Until such time as that history is written, the website will at least provide access to NCP information resources in the public domain for a global audience. As the NCP contact list continues to expand, additional content contributors and users of the website will be brought into the Friends of NCP group and engaged with the future refinement of the website.
The website is still a ‘work-in-progress’ but the development team is confident that, currently, the site has enough NCP memorabilia available to facilitate many happy hours of browsing that will bring back fond memories and provide a good dose of nostalgia to help ward off the lockdown blues!