Shakespeare’s witchcraft, magic in Byo
CLAD in a simple t-shirt and shorts with his entire body covered in mysterious white paint, National Gallery of Zimbabwe in Bulawayo director Voti Thebe held the crowd under a bewitching spell.
The man on stage seemed a far cry from the swaggering, well manicured gentleman who a while before, had delivered short opening remarks at the start of the exhibition to celebrate the life of erstwhile English playwright, William Shakespeare.
Thebe, a visual artiste by trade, was in the middle of a one-man exhibition titled, Macbeth and the Three Witches.
His bit of artistic voodoo had begun with him putting the finishing touches on three portraits that the audience had assumed were the witches Shakespeare has so dramatically portrayed in his play, Macbeth. As what had begun as nothing more than three painted smudges transformed into works of magical art, the modest crowd ignited in applause as they acknowledged a master craftsman at work.
The fireworks did not stop there as Thebe delivered the coup de grâce by setting the edges of his main piece on fire, before dashing off stage with the swagger of a Hollywood star leaving a burning car wreck in his background.
Those with an interest would have noticed that long after he had left the stage, the visage of the portrait had been left untouched by the fire, peering stubbornly and hauntingly at the empty seats deserted by the crowd that had left to indulge in some beverages.
Thebe’s display was perhaps the highlight of the first day of the Intwasa Arts Festival koBulawayo, with the arts fete combining with the British Embassy in its celebration of the 400th anniversary of the playwright’s death.
After the display, MC Kgosi Nyathi remarked: “What Voti Thebe was doing on stage has nothing of what he does with witches during the night. I hope that is what they did back in the day because it justifies what we do today.”
The comment was apt on an evening when the supernatural was touched on by Bulawayo artiste’s interpretation of Shakespeare’s centuries old texts, which were dominated by witchcraft and magic. Before Thebe’s bewitching piece, Umkhathi Theatre Works had shown a uniquely Bulawayo take on Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a comedy written by William Shakespeare between 1590 and 1597. It portrays the events surrounding the marriage of Theseus, the Duke of Athens, to Hippolyta. These include the adventures of four young Athenian lovers and a group of six amateur actors who are controlled and manipulated by the magical fairies that inhabit the forest in which most of the play is set.
The group, through the simple and practical sorcery of well executed theatre, showed that Shakespeare’s world can be adapted to the tastes of local audiences. While when reading Shakespeare’s plays, the ordinary Zimbabwean in their mind’s ear hears the voices of the characters with their Victorian accents, Umkhathi’s Zimbabwean pronunciations added its own unique humour to the play.
If one was expecting ballads and musicians strumming on harps they were to be disappointed, as Umkhathi’s African drums intermingled brilliantly with the Victorian mood and themes of the play. The group sealed the deal by singing Ndebele songs as part of the play’s much anticipated wedding, expertly finishing its job of dragging Shakespeare from the Victorian Age into 21st Century Bulawayo.
The mood was best summed up by Nama winning poet and actor, Philani Nyoni who remarked that he has an ongoing rivalry with Shakespeare, and that in his mind, “Shakespeare was a Dynamos supporter.”
The exhibition was capped in the lower gallery, where some of the country’s best artistes had pieces inspired and dedicated to the great writer.
While it was a relatively low-key main event for the start of Intwasa’s annual festivities, the exhibition proved that Shakespeare 400 years after his death still walks, talks and performs through various creative individuals and Bulawayo’s artistes are as good a mouthpiece as any in the world for his work.
Umkhathi Theatre Works on stage