CityLife Arts

Delightful theatre to ease my uncomfortable relationship with Shakespeare

Edward Tsumele

I have a confession to make. I have an uncomfortable relationship with Shakespeare’ work, and this has nothing to do with its sophistication. It has everything to do with an experience I had while at primary school during a performance of one of his important works, Macbeth, in which I played the character of Lord Banquo. The least I remember about that experience the better and here is why.

The rehearsals had gone well and my drama teacher was proud of me as he was sure that I was going to deliver the mother of all performances and make him as my drama teacher, the school as well as possibly sealing my fate as a future thespian come performance day, which was the following day.

And as someone playing an important character in the play I arrived early at school to be on time and not having to worry about being late. That was my undoing. I started picking up a rumour from fellow school mates that I was responsible for a certain girl not coming to school that day because the father had given her a hiding.

This girl was supposed to be my girlfriend of sorts, a childhood sweet heart, which was fine as I could not deny that. In any case she was the prettiest girl at the school, at least according to me. But the rumour was that after school, I had accompanied her halfway to her home and which I never denied either because I wanted her to be safe. But then they said I delayed her arriving home by something like 10 minutes and the strict father was not impressed and therefore gave her a hiding of her life, and therefore she could not come to school as she was nursing her pain from the hiding.

The rumour circulated so fast around the school that everyone was asking me about my naughtiness and not the role I was supposed to deliver that morning in front of the whole school and parents. Can you imagine what that does to the nerves of a young actor?

To cut the long story short, when the time for the cast to deliver their lines I was already a nervous wreck and not because I was weak but my mind was on the so called notoriety that I had caused.

Well the show must go on and on stage I ascended, faking all the confidence in the world like most actors are capable of doing. Did I deliver my lines? I thought I did, but apparently, according to my disappointed teacher, my voice was distant and muffled and that was not the actor my teacher knew. Instead of projecting, I apparently only managed to whisper my lines. And he was right, but what he did not know was that I had a bigger problem on my mind.

And so that incident has stayed with me my whole life. Each time I have to watch a Shakespearian play, that sad moment in what could have been a successful acting career but was aborted, floods my mind.

That memory came back to haunt me at the weekend on Saturday, August 15. I was invited by the Market Theatre with a few others to attend an exclusive performance of monologues taken from some of Shakespeare’ works such as Twelve Night, The Merchant of Venice and Richard 11, but to name just a few.

Titled Chilling with The Bard ShakeHerSpeare, season is based on speeches from some of Shakespeare’s prolific plays that were written for male characters. The plays have been carefully selected and matched with the perfect actress by the Market Theatre Artistic Director James Ngcobo. Reversing the roles, this Shakespeare season provides the actors with exciting vignettes, telling stories that were written more than 400 years ago but are still relevant today.

These monologues were performed spectacularly and with grace and great respect for Shakespeare’s revered verses, by some of this country’s most talented actors. And because everything now is done on the virtual world due to the coronavirus pandemic, the invited guests who numbered 33 had to watch these monologues from the comfort of our homes. That is actually cool because that gives one a different experience altogether, watching theatre at home while you are sipping your coffee or something.

But because I have this uncomfortable relationship with Shakespeare, I just knew that something was going to go wrong. Well it almost did.  But it is nowhere close to my major flop with Shakespeare’s work as a youngster aspiring to be an actor. I suspect that bad personal experience is responsible for cutting shot what could have been probably a successful acting career.

And If you have been wondering what drove me into being a critic instead of being an actor, the truth is out. Failed actors often become critics. The logic then becomes If you cannot join them critique their work, after all you know what a bad actor is as you are well placed from your personal experience.

While Saturday’s show was not without faults as big as my major flop in acting donkey years ago, it had some resemblance to it when the voices of some of the actors were muffled and sounded distant, just like I did when I could not project my voice loud enough to impress my grade Seven drama teacher and parents simply because I was nervous.

The sound hiccup however did not stand on the way of these highly talented actresses to deliver a delightful dose of Shakespearian verses meant for male actors. The acting was impeccable, the confidence was out of this world and they appeared to be giving a performance of their whole lives.

It would even be unfair to pick out one actress as the one that is most impressive, because all of them, actually are just too good to point at a fault, bar the sound, which really is not their problem as it is a technical issue that almost spoilt a good show and a great evening  of good theatre.

These monologues, which will run on the Market Theatre’s social media platforms, screening a single monologue each on Thursday 12 noon, starting this Thursday, 20 August, deserve to be watched by whole families at home. The monologues may even reduce the tension brought about by the lockdown due to the coronavirus. The monologues are directed by Market Theatre’s artistic director James Ngcobo, and this is a job well done for audiences during lockdown.

Even when the  the actors that were present at  this exclusive screening of the monologues, including Rorisang Motuba, Bianca Amato, Charmaine Weir and Camilla Waldman, applauded themselves for delivering a good job, they can be excused for blowing their own horn. This is because indeed it is a good show after all, and why wait for someone else to tell you it is so when it is there for everybody to see.

The series includes many more talented actresses than those who attended the special screening, including Vanessa Cooke, and Leila Hendriques among others.

It is a show that one should make time for. Personally the delightful performance somehow managed to calm me a little bit when it comes to my uncomfortable relationship with Shakespeare’s work.

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