by Yael Farber, from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar
Oxford Playhouse To 29 September 2001
Runs 2hr 5min No interval
TICKETS 01865 798600
Review Timothy Ramsden 25 September
Striking perspective on Shakespeare intriguingly relocates ancient Rome to modern Africa.
In this South African Caesar English gives way to African dialect at moments of passion. For it’s no longer Romans lending their ears; this is the fictional African state Azania, a society in transition; radio broadcasts announce political events yet Caesar’s wife investigates animal entrails.
There’s generous use of gesture and oratory in the speeches over Caesar’s corpse. African dance explodes in celebration or fury, conspirators signal their identity by beating their breasts, politicians turn up at the Senate in high-kick march formation: this is a highly physical society.
And one where major issues are still being worked out. The specific petitions that precede Caesar’s assassination are replaced by general calls for him to consider his country more.
The revenging Octavius is a rebel down from the mountains. Joining him, Mark Antony dons tribal paint and garb. The culture mix is beautifully presented in Brutus’ tent by two ghosts. First, to soft western music, comes the consoling figure of his dead wife, then Caesar’s ghost sitting in straight-backed challenge, accompanied by African drum rhythms.
The Soothsayer and Artemidorus, who both warn Caesar, are combined into a road-sweeper who has overheard conspiratorial conversations in the street; politicians plan as the worker goes unnoticed.
The eight-strong company play well; the verse-speaking is generally good. If the staging seems better suited to a less formal space than the Playhouse proscenium, it still gives a valuable insight into drama and world politics. Some South Africans want to ban Shakespeare from the school-room. This production demonstrates his is a world-wide, very contemporary voice.
And the struggle with demagogy is no longer a matter only for new democracies. We are all now aware one leader’s decision can wrench the course of history. At such times the classics, imaginatively reconsidered, are more than ever necessary.
SeZaR: Hope Sprinter Sekgobela
Kalpurnia: Keketso Semoko
Brutas: Menzi ‘Ngubs’ Ngubane
Porshia: Mmabatho Mogomotsi
Marc Antony: Tony Kgoroge
Kassius: Tumisho K Masha
Mashanela: Mary Twala
Sinna/Oktavius: Siyabonga Twala
Director: Yael Farber
Designer: Larry Le Roux
Lighting: Michael Maxwell
Costumes: Lisa Younger