The idea of a national theatre was conceptualised in 1949 when a steering committee made up of British and Indian settlers requested the colonial government to set up a venue where they could express themselves in drama, music and art.
Construction was completed and the centre incorporated under an Act of Parliament (Cap 218 of 1951). The building comprised a 450-seater hall, an orchestra pit, curtained stage and a balcony with a bar and restaurant where patrons could enjoy refreshments during breaks and after performances.
The Centre was officially opened for use. This marked the beginning of theatrical performances at the Kenya National Theatre.
KNT in 1957. PHOTO: Vintage East Africa
The Kenya Cultural Centre hosted the inaugural National Schools Drama Festival, which was modelled on the British drama festival for higher education. It comprised expatriate teachers, inspectors and staff of the British Council.
The first local play to win the National Drama Festival at KNT was a phenomenal moment in 1971. The production was “Olkirkenyi”, by students of Olkejuado Secondary School.
The production by Conrad Makeni of Professor Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Ngugi wa Mirii’s play “I Will Marry When I Want” in 1982 landed Ngugi wa Thiong’o in trouble with the authorities. The play was banned and from then on, KNT was viewed as a place harbouring enemies of the state.
The Kenya National Theatre was renovated to include ultra-modern equipment by a joint effort between the government and East African Breweries Ltd. The renewed set-up became a 345-seater modern theatre.
The Kenya Cultural Centre hosted the inaugural Kenya Theatre Awards in a joint partnership with the Kenya International Theatre Festival Trust. Renowned acts like John Sibi-Okumu, David Mulwa, Ogutu Muraya, Sammy Mwangi, Nick Ndeda, Nice Githinji, Wakio Mzenge and Gilbert Lukalia among others were awarded on 17th February 2022.