My Tongue Will Tell

A few weeks ago we announced that Shakespeare ZA will be publishing new work by South African poets that responds to Shakespeare’s plays. In this second installment, Lauren Bates weaves her own words into lines from Kate’s speech in Act Four Scene Three of The Taming of the Shrew.

My Tongue will Tell

To the men who drown our voices with their noise

     Why sir I trust I may have leave to speak

To the men who say that boys will yet be boys

     And speak I will. I am no child, no babe

To the men who hide their failures in our pain

    Your betters have endured me say my mind

To the men who see our losses as their gain

    And if you cannot, tis best you stop your ears

To the men who leer at us with eyes of lust

    My tongue will tell the anger of my heart

To the men that blame us for our misplaced trust

    Or else my heart concealing it will break

To the men who build their triumphs on our loss

    And rather than It shall I will be free

To the men who nail us to another cross

    Even to the uttermost, as I please, in words

To the men who feel that we are theirs to take

    I see a woman may be made a fool

To the men who think that we are theirs to break

   If she had not a spirit to resist

Remember you who crush to gain control

You desecrate the temple of your soul

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About the author

Lauren Bates is a South African English and Drama teacher, Shakespeare Scholar and Theatre in Education practitioner. After completing a second master’s degree in “Shakespeare and Creativity” at the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-Upon-Avon, she has embarked on a PhD through Wits University to unpack the past, present and future of Shakespeare in the South African high school curriculum. Based on her experience working with the Education Departments at the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, she has launched the educational theatre initiative Educasions.

Lauren is directing a production of Matthew Hahn’s play The Robben Island Shakespeare at the Artscape Theatre on 16 April and at the Baxter Theatre on 11 May.

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Review: Richard III at Maynardville

by Marguerite de Waal

Alan Committie and Bianca Mannie in Richard III. Photo credit: Jesse Kramer .

Alan Committie and Bianca Mannie in Richard III. Photo credit: Jesse Kramer .

Recently, I was lucky enough (Gauteng-native that I am) to attend one of the last showings of Richard III, directed by Geoffrey Hyland, which ran at the Maynardville Open Air Festival in Cape Town from 7 February to 9 March. Thinking back on the experience, a moment towards the end of the play immediately comes to mind:

Richard (played by Alan Committie) moves onto the small, slightly de-elevated platform sticking out of the front of the stage. This is a familiar spot for him: at this point, the audience is conditioned to expect that he will now deliver another of his villainous – and gripping – soliloquys. Committie handles the moment expertly. He has spent the whole of the play building a complicitous rapport with the audience while standing, hunched and crooked, on this little platform. The steady build-up of the connection between Richard and the audience pays off in this key moment, when it is broken by his inability to speak. He opens his mouth, but he cannot form any words. This is startling: we expect (we want!) another speech, another rhetorical magic trick, or shocking revelation of further and greater villainy – and we receive nothing. No echoes are left of the refrain “I am king!” – delivered by Committie with an utterly convincing mixture of incredulity and glee – which marked the turn of the play into its second half. The furious verbal manipulation Richard has used to propel himself to the top stops short in a sudden and devastating silence.


… the restrained approach to the staging allowed for one’s focus to remain steadily on the performances of the actors, which were worth all the attention they could be given.


This was one powerful moment among many in the production: all of which were dependent on a combination of excellent performances, measured stage and costume design, and judicious direction. When putting on any of the history plays, a common tactic is to present them in a modernised and hyper-topical context, side-stepping accusations of “irrelevance”. Certainly, there are ways of staging the plays which would warrant such accusations, and inserting the play into a modern on-stage context can be a very successful alternative to stifling historicity. However, superimposing the contemporary onto such a play also runs the risk of being superficial. Hyland’s Richard III did not fall onto either side of the spectrum, and so avoided the pitfalls of each. It was neither an animated relic nor a heavy-handed game of “spot the political/pop-culture reference”. The furthest this interpretation went in terms of the latter was, as far as I could tell, a single moment when Anne (played by the commanding Bianca Mannie) swotted away Richard’s hand during his coronation in a move reminiscent of Melania Trump, but that is pretty much the extent of it.

Richard III at Maynardville. Photo credit: Jesse Kramer.

Richard III at Maynardville. Photo credit: Jesse Kramer.

With no modern context (or historically accurate reproduction) to construct and remain faithful to, the production relied on very little artifice. The stage seemed to be constructed entirely of wooden pallets, surrounded on the far left and right by wooden stakes. At the beginning, one round form in a brown, bloodied sack (the head of king Henry VI) was already impaled on a stake to the left. As the rest of Richard’s victims lost their heads one by one, more bloodied sacks were stuck onto the empty stakes, none of which were left empty by the end of the play. This acted as a useful and suitably grim death tally. At the centre of all this violence was the much-contested throne: a tall and unimpressive wooden box with a square hole in the middle, easily moved about (and off) the stage as necessary. When Committie’s Richard was crowned and sat himself on this box-throne, it instantly rendered him a child, with legs dangling high off the floor. The costumes were indefinite in terms of time period: an unobtrusive mixture of modern and older fashions, all in dark tones, with the exception of Richard and Anne’s blood-red royal attire following (the symbolism of which needs little explanation). The strategic design provided enough visual anchors for the audience, but also allows a lot of space and freedom for individual associations and reactions.


Anne, together with the other three female characters, provided the most striking counterpoints to the treasonous king.


Furthermore, and perhaps most notably, the restrained approach to the staging allowed for one’s focus to remain steadily on the performances of the actors, which were worth all the attention they could be given. Committie was a resounding success as Richard, and one is curious about what he could do with other characters from Shakespeare (and hopeful that the wait to find out will not be long). Bianca Mannie’s Queen Anne matched Richard in intensity and presence: their interactions were fierce, oppositional, and compelling. When Richard manages to convince Anne to marry him, the defeat leaves one pained and incredulous. The effect would have been lost if Mannie’s Anne had not demonstrated that she was a closely matched opponent to Richard: that she could have prevailed against him, but did not.

Anthea Thompson in Richard III. Photo credit: Jesse Kramer.

Anthea Thompson in Richard III. Photo credit: Jesse Kramer.

Anne, together with the other three female characters, provided the most striking counterpoints to the treasonous king. Anthea Thompson as the widowed Queen Margaret commanded the stage in her scenes: banished after her husband’s murder, she was vicious in her quest for retribution, cursing of Richard as well as Hastings (David Viviers), Rivers (Tailyn Ramsamy), and Dorset (Sanda Shandu) to meet early deaths. Queen Elizabeth (Cassandra Mapanda) first endured the death of her husband, Edward IV (John Maytham), and then her sons, the young princes (Tafara Nyatsanza and Damon Munn). While at Richard’s mercy, Mapanda played the Queen with strong-willed dignity set in opposition to her husband and children’s murderer. Finally, Lee-Ann van Rooi, playing Richard’s own mother (the Duchess of York), was a formidable presence. Her relationship with Richard was fraught, and van Rooi managed to show her character as both politically calculating, fiercely protective of Elizabeth and her grandsons, as well as genuinely distressed and disgusted at Richard’s actions and her own complicity in them as his mother.     

The play text offers Richard the lion’s share of the dialogue. The part seems made for a virtuoso performer to dominate the stage. Still, the female parts mentioned above do much to introduce a meaningful balance. Additionally, the impact of the production would have been lost if the supporting characters were inconsistent. The entire cast should be given credit for buttressing an excellent production with focused and well-honed performances, in which there was very little room to disguise poor acting with spectacle.


… the universality of a text from the past cannot be made to mean anything in a theatre space without the energy and talent of the artists of the present.


Beyond appreciation for the craft and dedication of all the theatre artists involved, what impressions were left at the end of this Richard III? The production presented a story about the pursuit of power, which turned out to be a short-lived, bloody, and violent mess. Richard’s almost complete lack of true feeling (as opposed to his many false and convincing shows of emotion) painted a picture which was both absurd and terrifying. No sympathy or love were apparent behind his many masks – not even the smallest mustard-seed worth for a last-minute, half redemption – only a rabid will to power, and beyond that: silence. The implications of this tale, distilled and contained as it was in presentation, were free to resonate in as many directions as there were audience members on a performance night. This could be chalked up to the perennially cited “universality” of Shakespeare. Thinking of this performance, though, I would argue that the universality of a text from the past cannot be made to mean anything in a theatre space without the energy and talent of the artists of the present, who create connections and meaning – a lived experience – in the moment of performance. This is the magic of theatre, and I hope that it will continue at Maynardville and other South African stages for a long time to come. 

KONINGIN LEAR in the Klein Karoo

This year the Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees is turning 25! If you’re heading to Oudtshoorn for the festival, you’ll want to see Antoinette Kellermann as “Queen Lear”. This production follows Antjie Krog’s Afrikaans translation of Tom Lanoye’s Flemish text and promises to be something special.

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KONINGIN LEAR

DEBUUT Drama
’n Kunste Onbeperk-produksie ondersteun deur NATi
MET Antoinette Kellermann, Anna-Mart van der Merwe, Rolanda Marais, André Roothman, Neels van Jaarsveld, Wilhelm van der Walt, Edwin van der Walt en Matthew Stuurman TEKS Tom Lanoye VERTALING Antjie Krog REGIE EN ONTWERP Marthinus Basson BELIGTINGSONTWERPER EN PRODUKSIEBESTUURDER Chris Pienaar KOSTUUMONTWERP Elaine du Plessis KLANKONTWERP Rynhardt van Blerk OUDIO-VISUELE ONTWERP Dawid Joubert VERHOOGBESTUURDER Danielle Louw VERVAARDIGER Kunste Onbeperk

Koningin Lear is ’n herverbeelding van William Shakespeare se King Lear deur die gevierde Vlaamse skrywer Tom Lanoye. Elizabeth Lear het met die verloop van tyd haar klein besigheid opgebou tot ’n internasionale sakeryk. Elisabeth kondig aan dat die besigheid tussen haar drie seuns verdeel sal word en sy eis dat haar seuns onder eed hul liefde en trou aan haar verklaar. Haar jongste, en geliefde seun weier en dit ontketen ’n familietwis van reuse-omvang. Dit is ’n verhaal van ’n bejaarde besigheidsvrou wat haar houvas op die werklikheid verloor, wat desperaat probeer om die storm wat om haar losgebars het te hanteer. ’n Epiese verhaal wat skerp kommentaar lewer op ’n hedendaagse besigheidswêreld, waarin integriteit en lojaliteit skaars kommoditeite geword het. Koningin Learbring die room van Suid-Afrikaanse akteurs byeen om dié kragtige verhaal na die plaaslike verhoog te bring.

Afrikaans | Geen o/16 | T, G, V | 180 min. (pouse van 10 min.) R155, R170 (by die deur)
SANW-ouditorium
21 Maart 16:00, 22 Maart 10:00**, 23 Maart 16:00, 24 Maart 10:00, 25 Maart 16:00, 26 Maart 10:00

**Gratis gesprek met die geselskap: 22 Maart 13:00 (na afloop van 10:00 vertoning) | 45min.

New teaching and learning resources

We are continually adding to the collection of teaching and learning materials available on Shakespeare ZA. You can browse through resources on Antony and Cleopatra, Othello, Hamlet, Coriolanus and Macbeth here.

The latest addition is a presentation by Nina Nathanson, an English teacher at St Mary’s School, Waverley (Johannesburg). This is not specific to one play, but deals with wider questions about Shakespeare’s relevance to South African learners.

Click on the image below to download it!

Old Money

Shakespeare ZA is delighted to announce that, over the next few weeks, we will be publishing new work by South African poets that responds to Shakespeare’s plays and poetry.

First up: Geoffrey Haresnape and a poignant take on King Lear …

OLD MONEY

              “I am a very foolish, fond old man

                Fourscore and upward, not an hour more nor less

                And to deal plainly,

                I fear I am not in my perfect mind”                                           

 

                                               1.

             

He has been –

when all is said and done –

at the top of the heap.

But now

with geriatric issues

kicking in

it seems the time

to leave his assets

for the younger strengths

of his attractive daughters.

 

A will and testament

divides his estate

into three portions –

weighted to reflect

his children’s relative importance.

 

This document

is shown them in his sick room

Clearly, there are spoils for the taking.

Some ‘oos’ and ‘ahs’ –

together with awareness of the Reaper

waiting in the wings –

seduce him to indulge himself.

 

“Tell me, my daughters

 whom of you shall I say loves me most?”

 

The eldest

croons arpeggios.

Dearer than eyesight she loves him,

dearer than life, beauty, health, honour.

  

Her father flourishes

like a rain-frog

in her flood of eloquence.

 

Before her eyes he dangles

wine farms, a city penthouse, blocks of flats

in ownership perpetual

to herself and all her family.

 

This done, he asks:

What says my second daughter?”

 

He finds

her just like the first ...

excepting that

her heart belongs exclusively

to daddy.

 

This is his little kitten!

The patriarch is smitten;

as many titbits of his real estate

 as he has promised to her sister

are dropped into her bowl.

 

A third remains:

his favorite, tender, youngest,

lovely one.

She understands him

like his own heartbeat.

She’ll outdo what the others say

and make him special.

 

“What can you say

 to draw a third

 more opulent than your sisters?”

 

Her too brief answer

is a body-blow.

 

Panickey,

he advises her to use more words.

“Nothing will come of nothing.”

 

He sees her jaw-line

that is like his own

jut stubbornly

as she presents

some argument.

 

 “I cannot heave my heart

into my mouth”

 

She tells him,

that her love is as it ought to be.

No more, nor less.

 

Does she believe

that she’ll expropriate his land

without a word 

of heart-felt compensation?

 

Dementia’s  tapeworm

squirms up

from his gut

to touch his tongue root

with its obscene tickling.

He rises on one elbow

in his bed to bluster:

 

“Get out of my sight.

 You truth will be your legacy.

 Your sisters can

 digest your share.”

 

He’s hot to crush her with a codicil.

 

                                                    2.

 

Time shows its pulses

in a million digitals

while some old clockwork

strikes the hours

in a traditional way.

 

Two girls

that once were honey sweet

are souring

grudging.

They put their trust

in lipstick and mascara,

driven

by their large libidos,

sassy thighs.

 

All alone

he bangs his temple

with a weary fist.

His weakness

needs the crumbs

that they let fall

from their expensive tables.

 

The youngest one

is with her partner

far away.

 

At last he’s told

that his disease

is terminal.

 

Oh, the waves of weakness:

how they come.

Each finger’s movement is a weight.

His breaths go in and out in toil.

Why did he spurn his dearest?  Why?

He is afraid to change

what his legalities have done.

 

                                                 

                                                 3.

 

Six thousand patient miles

and then her Uber scrunches to his door.

What smiles

and consternations!

What tears

when his too greatly absent darling

touches him.

He feels

that he is necklaced

with a burning tyre

of shame.

 

“I know you do not love me.

You have some cause.”

 

She will not hear

of it.

 

Her hand

upon his cheek

is balm.

 

                                                 

                                                       4.

Knowing

that she will visit him again ...

he sleeps and dreams.

His certainty forgets

the slips and slides

of the beloved country.

 

Her lodging is attacked

by what they call the crowbar gang

and she becomes the victim

of an undiscriminating blade.

 

Some thirty stab wounds

mutilate her neck

and unresisting back.

She is bled out

before the parameds arrive.

 

He howls and howls.

Frail age

cannot contain this thing.

 

They take him in a wheel-chair

to the view-site

in the funeral home.

 

The staff

have cosmetized

her lacerations well.

She’s clenched

inside her open coffin

like a broken doll.

 

He wonders why

a dog, a horse, a rat

should have that thing

called life

and she no life at all.

 

She will not come again.

 

The family flinch

to hear him start his mantra

of the “Never” word.

So great a load, so great a load

of love  and suffering.

 

Between the spoked wheels

of his senile chariot

he seems to wilt

like some old oak tree

severed from its roots.

 

Suddenly his throat

is clicking

 

Does he believe

her patched-up effigy

still breathes?

 

Can he be hoping

at the heart of loss?

 

An awkward smile

irradiates his wrinkles.

as his carer wheels him  out

into a blaze

of light.