I Will Marry When I Want is one of the famed Kenyan playwright Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s most revered plays. Set in post-independence Kenya, the play is a searing look at the legacies of colonialism and the myriad difficulties Kenyans faced in the aftermath of their successful overthrow of British colonial rule. It is renowned for its Marxist critique as well as its interweaving of lyrical and metaphysical elements. The play was written in Gĩkũyũ and was entitled Ngaahika Ndeenda.
Ngugi co-wrote the play with another Kenyan playwright, Ngugi wa Mirii. It was first performed in Kenya in 1977 at the Kamiriithu Community Education and Cultural Centre, an open-air theater in Limuru, Kenya. Ngugi stressed a particular form of theater in which the actors’ attempts to embody their characters were visible to the audience, thus bringing about more unity between spectator and actor. He recruited village peasants to attend the performance.
The play was very successful and ran for a good amount of time before the Kenyan authorities shut it down. Many believe it also led to Ngugi’s imprisonment, in which he was held in the Kamiri Maximum Security Prison in Nairobi from December 1977 to December 1978. There, he composed the play Devil on the Cross. He eventually left the country for fear for his safety, and did not return for several decades.
The play is not performed very often in the Western world, but is frequently read and studied in college and university classes.