Shake­speare’s witch­craft, magic in Byo

Chronicle (Zimbabwe) - - Entertainment - Bruce Ndlovu

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.

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Umkhathi Theatre Works on stage

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