The Interview Series #7 (Part 2): Shakespeare ZA meets with the cast and director of the National Children’s Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra

The National Children’s Theatre kicks off its 2018 Season with William Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatrawhich is this year’s Grade 10, 11 and 12 IEB English set work, and this production brings the text to life for learners and teachers alike. The production is travelling to schools nationwide until May 2018. Shakespeare ZA spoke to the cast and director, Néka Da Costa, about their take on the play, NCT, and Shakespeare in South Africa.

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Could you tell us about the characters you are each portraying and describe your specific perception of them?

Carlos Williams (Pompey): Pompey is a power-hungry leader who has a very strong sense of honour, which doesn’t necessarily turn out too well for him.

Cassius Davids (Octavius Caesar): I think Caesar’s very ambitious, also set in his ways, very conniving, very smart.

Megan van Wyk (Iras and Octavia): Iras is a waiting woman for Cleopatra and she is quite all over the place, and ditzy and loyal. Octavia is the sister to Caesar, and she is self-serving, but also loyal to Caesar.

Kevin Koopman (Alexas, Varrius, Scarus, and Diomedes): I think I’ll speak about Alexas. Alexas is very materialistic. He is proud, but, more than anything, he is infatuated with Cleopatra.

Campbell Meas (Charmian and Agrippa): Charmian, one of Cleopatra’s ladies in waiting, is loyal; she is witty; she’s chacharag. And then Agrippa is one of Caesar’s soldiers, and I think he is very loyal to Caesar, and he enjoys violence and chaos.

Sibusiso Mkhize (Enobarbus and Mardian): Enobarbus is a very loyal friend to Antony. He’s a thinker, and he’s a very easy and malleable character. He shifts very nicely between the Egyptian setup and the Roman lifestyle.

Neo Sibiya (Eros and Lepidus): Lepidus is part of the Triumvirate with Antony and Caesar, but I think he’s the weakest link in the Triumvirate. He is probably an alcoholic. He is very easy-going; he is laid-back; he is a peace-maker and he just wants everyone to be happy. Conflict and tension make him a bit nervous.

Sanelisiwe Yekani (Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt): I think that Cleopatra is the epitome of a queen or a strong woman who finds herself truly in love; and we then get to witness her journey of, I suppose, opposites, where she tries to balance her power and her love.

Ben Kgosimore (Mark Antony): Mark Antony is passionate. He is also quite strong, which is something that has worked for him in the past, but I think that at this point of his life, the strength that led to his becoming a general does not really count anymore. I think he is quite playful, playful in that in the 21st century, he could even be categorised as a player. He leads with his heart, and sometimes that’s good for him, and sometimes that’s bad for him.

Have there been challenges or surprises in interpreting your character?

Sibusiso (Enobarbus and Mardian): I noticed with Enobarbus that you really need to get the imagery and sense of what he is talking about, because he speaks in prose. So you need to understand what you say, because at first it’s just a bunch of words that make no sense really. So, personally, to me as an actor, it was challenging to make meaning and sense of the words, but it really pushed me to work hard, because Enobarbus is the one who relays the story.

Ben (Antony): I think my first introduction to Mark Antony was in Julius Caesar with his “Friends, Romans, Countrymen” … and there’s a strange relationship that Shakespeare has with the actual historical facts and with what he finally presents in the work. I understood Mark Antony to be a Roman General … If you think ‘Roman General’, you think, this must be a tough man, but, starting from Julius Caesar, he became a leader because he was able to reach soldiers here (pats chest). He was able to convince them and to get them to put their souls on the line by appealing to their hearts. That’s how he became a general, and, I suppose, that is my impression of him now.

Sanelisiwe (Cleopatra): It was interesting, because you hear about Cleopatra as this strong character, this woman who was the fall of a great soldier, but, after reading the work, and learning from our sessions, and talking about her more, and trying to understand her lines and the things she says … my interpretation of her is that she is actually one of the weakest people in the play, and the reason I say this is because I feel that in her commands, in her decisions, in her there is a panicking happening, and being a woman, especially back in those days, power doesn’t belong to you, you know. That is how it’s sold. So, you have to keep it, to try keep it, and then suddenly you are falling in love, and losing control … she is panicking. She is trying to not to lose. She might have power, according to other people, but she doesn’t feel at peace with that power. So, I don’t think she is the strongest character in the play, although it may appear that way.


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Coming into this, I understand the power and the influences she has, but what are the many things motivating what she says, and what decisions she makes?


Néka (the director of Antony and Cleopatra): Would anybody like to disagree with or challenge that?

Ben (Antony): I think that if there is one thing that Cleopatra has, it is urgency. Yes, as a woman in ancient times, she was not afforded a voice or she was not supposed to be strong, but what Cleopatra has, what no other woman has, is urgency. To express yourself, even in a way that is panicky, just to be able to express your emotion … is actually quite a strength on its own.

Megan (Iras and Octavia): I also think that she is clever, and that that’s one of her biggest strengths. She knows exactly how to play her cards. She is playing constantly, and when Thyreus says to her that Caesar wants to help her, she makes herself subordinate to him. She is playing him, and then Antony sees that and he misinterprets it, and she says, “Not know me yet?” And that is so telling of who she is, I think. And in the end, she does have the most power because she decides to take her own life and that is her choice, completely.

Sibusiso (Enobarbus and Mardian): I agree and disagree with what you said. Remember the status game that we played? I think, internally, that you might think of Cleopatra as not having power, but the kind of influence that she has on the people around her is very powerful, especially Antony … the things that you make him do, you know? But also just to draw back on some of the lines that Enobarbus says … There is a scene with Varrius when Enobarbus says that Antony “will to his Egyptian dish again”, which shows the force and attraction implicit in you as Cleopatra, so I think, internally, you might think as an actor and as playing Cleopatra that your status is very low, but the kind of influence that you have in society is very strong.

Sanelisiwe (Cleopatra): I agree, definitely. She is smart, and she is comfortable in her sexuality, and Antony is attracted to her to that degree, but I also think that my approach to trying to see this particular side of her is rooted in understanding that there is one way that she has been written in by a male writer. Coming into this, I understand the power and the influences she has, but what are the many things motivating what she says, and what decisions she makes? So I agree with you, but, as a performer, I need to find the other side, the texture, the nuance of her.

Kirsten (Shakespeare ZA interviewer): Just in terms of what you said about Cleopatra’s motivations, I was just listening to what all of you said, and I was struck by this difference between Cleopatra’s private and public self: how is she perceived versus how does she perceive herself? Perhaps a lot of her motivation lies in her own fear of weakness as a woman in this society, and this fear, and the weakness that she perceives in that fear, is something that motivates her to be strong, to take power from people because she craves it.

This next question is for Antony and Cleopatra: What has been your experience of depicting a more mature love story in comparison to, let’s say, Romeo and Juliet?

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Ben (Antony): The thing is … we have all had the Romeo and Juliet kind of love, where you discover love for the very first time, where it is like, “Oh my God. You are the universe.” In Antony and Cleopatra, however, Antony is on his fourth or fifth wife, depending on which source you take it from, and at this stage of your life, you know what you want, you know how to get it, and you are present for every choice that you’re making. So I think that he makes a conscious decision to come to Egypt and to be with this woman. He knows the consequences at the end of the day. He knows that he is going to be shunned by the Romans ...

Sanelisiwe (Cleopatra): That’s the thing … They are aware of consequences.

Néka (the director of Antony and Cleopatra): Just in terms of their partnership, it’s interesting to note that Ben and Sanelisiwe play a game in every scene that they have together. If Antony wins this conversation, he gets one point, and if Cleopatra wins that conversation, she gets a point, so that we, as the audience, get the sense of a ball being thrown between them, because they are constantly and consciously either provoking or placating each other as needed for that particular moment. In this way, they are always working off of each other – acting maturely or immaturely … They choose to be immature sometimes, and that’s fine, because that’s their choice.

To open up a question again to everyone:
What drew you to this production? Why Shakespeare?

Cassius (Caesar): I was actually very interested in playing Caesar, because, at first glance, he can be viewed as the main antagonist of the play, which is exciting for me because the challenge is then to find a way of playing him where it is not about his antagonising someone but actually about his having this force within him … this devotion to duty, in fact, that pushes him to antagonise Antony. I just want to bring the idea of his being an actual person who believes in what he believes in to the role … Also, Shakespeare’s the bomb.


... Shakespeare’s the bomb.


Megan (Iras and Octavia): Personally, I have a big love for the classical texts. But, in addition to that, in terms of the broader spectrum, a lot of people ask: is Shakespeare still relevant in South African society? Why are we still doing this? Well, this is a set work for English students and I believe that if you are going to be studying literature, the best you can do is look at the epitome of the use of the language … and that can be found in Shakespeare. And I believe that we need to be performing it because that was what it was written for, and if you see it and hear it and you can experience the richness of the language, you’re experiencing it as it was meant to be experienced.

Neo (Eros and Lepidus): I was interested in taking part in an ensemble piece because I always find that Shakespeare provides the best opportunities for ensemble work. He frequently has big groups of people on the stage … and it’s always about one single event unravelling a whole community and about witnessing the repercussions amongst all those people. And then the relationships he creates! They are always incredibly interesting to me.

In your opinion, what makes Antony and Cleopatra relevant as a set work for these students now, today, in SA?

Ben (Antony): In terms of accessibility, in South Africa, in 2018, we are performing a Shakespeare text where we have a black Antony, a black Cleopatra, and a predominantly black cast … I just think that it shows the kids that we are going to perform to that there are multiple ways you can look at the play, and at Shakespeare, and that you can also put yourself in the shoes of this particular character and say, “Okay. Let’s read this world as if I am in it. How can I read Shakespeare and look at it with the people I know in my life?” Maybe it’s not Rome and Egypt. Maybe it’s Soweto and Alexandra … you know? It is important to make Antony and Cleopatra accessible to these kids, and I believe that that’s what makes our particular production relevant.

Carlos (Pompey): I also think that gender politics are a big issue. This play is an opportunity to expose young people to a powerful, female lead, and to associate that status and that power with a strong, African woman, especially because status and success tend to have a rigid male paradigm.

Néka (the director of Antony and Cleopatra): I also think from a directorial point of view, I chose to cast more women than I was supposed to. Lepidus and Agrippa are supposed to be males. The messengers are supposed to be males, as well as attendants, soldiers … and I thought, “No, no, I am fighting for more women.” I think it is important to play with gender politics even as you represent them. Even as you transform.

To the women who are playing men, what has your experience been of the process of putting on a male character?

Neo (Eros and Lepidus): Well, when you’re told to play a man, you have this macho picture in your mind, but what surprised me about the male characters, especially Lepidus and Eros, was actually finding that they have such a softness in them, especially Lepidus, because his thing is actually representing peace; he does not like conflict. He doesn’t actually want to go to war even though he is in an organisation that basically thrives on war. So, for me, it is important to balance that strength with softness … and to find that softness in him and say, “It’s okay! He can be a softer man. And that doesn’t make him any less of a man.”


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So, for me, it is important to balance that strength with softness … and to find that softness in him and say, “It’s okay! He can be a softer man. And that doesn’t make him any less of a man.”


Campbell (Charmian and Agrippa): Personally, playing a man is always fun; I always enjoy actually putting on those bodies just because you don’t often get to play someone like Cleopatra, or a woman who is strong and opinionated and who can do whatever she wants. You don’t get those opportunities a lot, so whenever you get a male role, you think, “This is probably an easier role to play because men are so opinionated and always written a little bit better than women.” … They are a little bit more complex when it comes to how they are written, especially by other men. In fact, it’s also interesting playing these characters in different performative spaces, regardless of their gender. In Cleopatra’s world, we are a little bit softer; we are more malleable. But in Caesar’s world, whether you are a man or a woman, there are very strict rules governing how you operate in that world. And it’s less about, “I am trying to be a man” and more about trying to stay within the rules that this person has set out for this space, which, I think, is a very interesting way to play it. In fact, this is something that Néka has emphasised in the spacing of the play, in the sense that space is very distinct, so I think space and how you perform in those spaces speak a lot to the relevance of the play for so many people. Yes, we are talking about thousands of years ago, but you also see these characters moving through three different spaces and how those spaces affect them.

What are your thoughts on the contrast between Rome and Egypt, then, as a corollary or analogue for West and Non-West?

Neo (Eros and Lepidus): I don’t know if it’s an analogue, but one of the things that I observed is how power operates differently in each space. For example, in Rome, when I play the Roman characters, power feels very performative. It’s like saying, “We put on power! Yeah! Let’s go get them boys and be violent! We are just going to take it and be macho and have pep talks all the time!” Whereas in Egypt, it feels like power moves much more organically. It’s like asking, “What needs to be done?” and then doing it, while asking others to weigh in. It feels like there’s such an abundance of power and resources in Egypt, whereas, in Rome, it feels like we have to fight for what we don’t have ... so they have to keep on taking and taking and getting and getting … That power is so much more violent and intrusive. Where Cleopatra says, “I have power, I have status, and now, how do you react?” the Romans yell, “Give me your status! Give me your power!”

Néka (the director of Antony and Cleopatra): It's like Egypt itself is far more powerful in its own right. It is far more complex in its own right, than Rome ever was.

Neo (Eros and Lepidus): Egypt is far more civilised in many ways!

Néka (the director of Antony and Cleopatra): It is far more civilised, yes, in its own right, and I think that we are trying to depict that as much as we can with Cleopatra. It's incorrect to just call Africa exotic. But the Romans do; they think it’s exotic. They think it’s drinking and wine and feasts and whatever. In that way, it is topical. In that way, it says to people, “Actually, this is the most ancient matriarchy. It is a system of power that has worked for years. There are riches, there are resources, and there is intellect here. Don’t underestimate that.”


... when I play the Roman characters, power feels very performative. It’s like saying, “We put on power! Yeah! Let’s go get them boys and be violent! We are just going to take it and be macho and have pep talks all the time!” Whereas in Egypt, it feels like power moves much more organically.


What do you personally hope the students leave the production remembering?

Ben (Antony): Well, I hope, not to jump the gun or anything, that any black boy that watches this thing thinks to himself, “I can be an Antony as well.”  I also think that all those young black girls in the schools can look at Cleopatra and think to themselves, “Wow, I can also be a queen. I have a queen inside me.”

Kevin (Alexas, Varrius, Scarus, and Diomedes): I hope that all those kids who are forced to read Shakespeare when they really don’t want to, who get frustrated with the language and feel like there is no point in doing it anymore … I hope that those kids, after watching the play, can get a firm grasp of the story, even if it’s just through intention from the way the characters are portrayed, the way the lines are said.

Megan (Iras and Octavia): My biggest wish for people coming to watch the show is that they get an impression of fun. We have a lot of fun and enjoyment in acting in this play, and I think that there’s a lot of fun to be had between the characters, and we have a drinking song that we just love performing and I think if they can leave feeling like, “Sho, I really enjoyed that,” and they see that you can have fun in performing Shakespeare, in reading it, that will, for me, mean that we have done a wonderful thing.

Carlos (Pompey): Well, we have to deliver the play in a certain way. There are certain themes and certain moments that we have to hit and touch on in a specific way so that they have that material to write their essay questions with. And I hope that after watching the play, these kids can at least go and develop their own opinions, because at the end of the day, they’re watching a rendition. They’re watching one point of view of this magnificent story and I hope that if they’re busy reading the text again or they’re busy writing their essays, they ask themselves, “But, what if…?”

Ben (Antony): Because at the end of the day, I also think that one of the biggest things about Shakespeare is: you can interpret it the way you want to.

Neo (Eros and Lepidus): I think it’s also important also for the students to see themselves in the stories. I think a lot of it has to do with representation, but a lot of it also has to do with accessibility. Because sometimes teachers pitch Shakespeare in a way that makes his plays seem like this mountain that you have to overcome and climb. But, hopefully, in this play, they’ll be able to see themselves, and see that this is just a story about two people who fell in love, and about the people who didn’t want them to fall in love at that time, which is something that is universal, which they can automatically connect with. Then I think it’s something that they care about.


They’re watching one point of view of this magnificent story and I hope that if they’re busy reading the text again or they’re busy writing their essays, they ask themselves, “But, what if…?”


What is your favourite aspect of the production? And what will you take away from this production?

Neo (Eros and Lepidus): For me, it’s about the words, the writing and how to tell a story. That is what I actually enjoy … just reading it and seeing it unfold. There’s the ‘show, don’t tell’ rule, but actually Shakespeare tells all the time, and there’s a beauty in that!

Sibusiso (Enobarbus and Mardian): The one thing that I enjoy and that I’ve seen in every production I do is the music that happens. So I’m just loving the music that we are incorporating in the piece, as well as the moments that we found to put the music in … I was one of those kids in school who never liked Shakespeare, to be honest. So having to do Shakespeare now on a professional level is also satisfying because I am finding the joy in it. I am finding also as an actor a kind of use for it, the technicality behind it, the writing, the beauty of understanding what you’re was saying, and researching what you’re saying.

Carlos (Pompey): For me, one of the things is we make quite a few tableaus, these still moments on stage and it’s so beautiful and easy to get lost in it, even on stage, if you glance at what’s happening there … It’s just such a beautiful moment and you get sucked into it, which I love every time, in every moment that we do. I just think it’s fantastic.

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Campbell (Charmian and Agrippa): My favourite part is not in the play … it’s the people, the ensemble of the production, because it’s always so great to have a cast and a director that say, “Play, and then we will sort out the rest later.” It’s just so fun to be given an opportunity to make mistakes, and make mistakes in front of 8 other people, and have them say, “Ah, we support that mistake. Actually, let’s turn that mistake into a thing.” So, for me, it’s always great to work with people who are just willing to play and give of themselves.

Kevin (Alexas, Varrius, Scarus, and Diomedes): There are two lines I really like: “Fie, wrangling Queen!” and, “Antony, leave thy lascivious wassails.” I love those two lines … just the way the words come off the tongue. It’s so memorable. But what I like the most are, funnily enough, the moments when I’m not on stage, and I’m watching, and I get to see the story unfold when other people are doing it. And you say, “Oh my God. That’s spicy, or that’s interesting!” So, listening and watching would have to be my favourite parts so far.

Megan (Iras and Octavia): I think my favourite part of this whole process is also a seconding of what you just said, Kev. It’s finding that I enjoy watching another actor enjoying and understanding and playing with what he or she is saying. So that brings me joy. And something that I’m really going to take away from this is just a reinvigorated love for the ensemble because I think that for a lot of things that you do as an actor in South Africa, there are limited budgets, so, usually, you’re in a one-woman show, or a two-hander, or there are three people in the production and you have to create this huge thing with three bodies. And having 9 people in a cast is an enormous thing, actually! And having so many people around you, and finding that movement and that breathing together and that rhythm that we have found, I think, is special for me.

Ben (Antony): There’s such joy in playing, just playing ... I think the one thing we want to communicate to these students is that you can be very playful in how you approach Shakespeare and that’s what I am going to take from this process. I think another favourite part has been learning (I should probably be saying this sentence in iambic pentameter) the i-am-bic pen-ta-me-ter, because you start to realise that how universal language is when you’re learning iambic pentameter and you’re speaking to your mother in Tswana, and you say, “Wait a minute! This applies here as well!” It really does! Say a sentence in Zulu and you’ll realise the iambic pentameter fits there as well. And you’ll think, “Oh, the thing is, we’ve all learnt to communicate in different expressions of language, but language is a universal system.” So that’s what I am going to take away from this … just how I have been reintroduced to language.


... you start to realise that how universal language is when you’re learning iambic pentameter and you’re speaking to your mother in Tswana, and you say, “Wait a minute! This applies here as well!”


Sanelisiwe (Cleopatra): I am actually not in my favourite part of the production. It’s a party; I can’t get into the club! It’s because they’re playing, and they play it so well and are enjoying it so much. It’s great to watch people who are really enjoying what they are doing. Funnily enough, I don’t know yet what I am taking from this production. I think I’m going to find out once the audiences start reacting, and I am excited to find out how they perceive it and, then, I think I will find out what I am taking from Antony and Cleopatra.


My favourite part is not in the play … it’s the people.


Performance Information:

It tours until May 2018 at IEB schools countrywide, with a showcase performance from 18 - 21 April at the National Children's Theatre

The Creative Team:

Produced by National Children’s Theatre and Renos Nicos Spanoudes
Directed by Néka Da Costa
Set and Costume Design by Sarah Roberts

The Cast:

Ben Kgosimore as Mark Antony
Sanelisiwe Yekani as Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt
Sibusiso Mkhize as Enobarbus
Cassius Davids as Octavius Caesar
Carlos Williams as Pompey
Megan van Wyk as Iras and Octavia
Campbell Meas as Charmian and Agrippa
Neo Sibiya as Eros and Lepidus
Kevin Koopman as Alexas, Varrius, Scarus, and Diomedes

Ticket prices are R100 per learner

For enquiries and bookings, please contact bookings@nctt.org.za

 

The Interview Series #7 (Part 1): Néka Da Costa on directing the National Children’s Theatre’s production of Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra

The National Children’s Theatre kicks off its 2018 Season with William Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatrawhich is this year’s Grade 10, 11 and 12 IEB English set work, and this production brings the text to life for learners and teachers alike. The production will be travelling to schools nationwide, from 26 February 2018 onwards. Shakespeare ZA spoke to director Néka Da Costa about her take on the play, NCT, and Shakespeare in South Africa.

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Néka Da Costa

Collaborator I Playwright I Director


So here I am! I’m a director, I’m a performer, I’m a creator.


Could you start by telling us about your occupation and the routes you took to get to this point in your career?

I always wanted to be a performer, and in the arts, and I knew that from a very young age. So, I studied a BA in Dramatic Arts at Wits, and that was paired with Sign Language because I always thought there were a lot of things that are common in drama and in Sign Language – both visually based and story-telling based languages. So I developed this interest in theatre for the Deaf, which became my Honours investigation, and then I was lucky enough to get into a Masters programme at RADA, which is the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London, and took my investigations further. I discovered that I was far more comfortable in the realm of directing. Being an academic, and being a performer and a practitioner at the same time, I could never quite reconcile the idea of having somebody dictate to me the idea that I was too short, or too tall, or too this, or too blonde, or too whatever to perform in something. So I thought, ‘It’s fine! I’ll just be on the other side of the table!’ And I much preferred the writing, and the directing, and the creating. In fact, before I did my Masters, I ended up creating a whole lot of visual theatre pieces, and directed a couple of commissions here and there. And then I went off to London to do the MA and found that my visual approach and Shakespeare seemed to work really well together. At one point, I was chosen by my classmates to direct a version of King Lear which had them in it, and we ended up using a lot of visual principles – tableaus and image theatre – to tell the story, which was great for King Lear. And I had been involved back here with the Shakespeare Schools Festival, directing a version of Julius Caesar for them. So I have delved into Shakespeare here and there, but this is my first, real interaction with a full-length Shakespeare. So here I am! I’m a director, I’m a performer, I’m a creator.

Is your visual approach something that you want to continue experimenting with in terms of directing Shakespeare’s plays in the future?

I think that one must be really careful when one superimposes things onto Shakespeare. So I’m not imposing any imagery … Shakespeare has this incredible ability to put his stage directions into the words, the imagery into the words. So all I’m doing is trying to lift the imagery, and the movements, and what is already there out of the text, particularly for this audience … The majority of this audience is going to be IEB matric students who are studying the text. I went to the English Teachers’ Conference this last weekend, and their biggest concern is that the students just don’t connect with the highbrow nature of the text, and I thought, ‘Yes, but it’s because it’s meant to be performed.’ It is difficult to sit with a Shakespeare text and read it without seeing it! If you see it, you’ll get it, and that’s where the visual comes in, I think, and I’m just trying to elevate the imagery out of the text.

In terms of your role as director of Antony and Cleopatra for the National Children’s Theatre, could you tell us a bit about the theatre, what you perceive its function to be in our South African context, as well as your involvement with it up to this point? Is this your first engagement with the National Children’s Theatre?

It’s not – I performed for the National Children’s Theatre a couple of years ago before I did the Masters and, since then, I have been an avid watcher of all of the productions here. Through the development of my career and my association with them, I was then asked to come back and direct this Shakespeare for them. And this is the second Shakespeare that they have taken on a National Schools Tour. The first was Coriolanus last year, which was met with such success that they wanted to build on that momentum. In terms of the role of this theatre in South Africa, I think NCT answers a bigger question about the function of the arts in South Africa … This space is a way to instrumentalise the arts. The greatest thing about this theatre, of course, is the shows, and the exposure of the young audience to good, quality theatre. But, more than that, this theatre hosts workshops every weekend for children from disadvantaged communities, and those workshops instil confidence and develop social skills, as well as develop the capacity to be empathetic and diplomatic. So it starts the dialogue really young, where kids can wonder, ‘What kind of role do the arts play in my personal development as a child in South Africa?’ as well as, ‘What can I contribute to theatre as a way to better my own society and my own community?’ So … from that standpoint, this space plays such a pivotal role in social development for young people. And, obviously, the quality of their productions is also notoriously high. It is not just ‘oh children’s theatre, let’s sing and dance’. For example, Sarah Roberts is the resident designer here – she is currently designing The Colour Purple at the Joburg Theatre. So she’s a prolific designer, and happily working in this space, because she believes, as does the National Children’s Theatre, that you shouldn’t diminish theatre just because it’s for the youth. Theatre is for everybody, and we should aim for quality theatre and for good craftsmanship. So that’s what has attracted me to this space, and I am honoured that I have been called in to do this production, because I want to add to the ethos that the theatre has.


... you shouldn’t diminish theatre just because it’s for the youth. Theatre is for everybody, and we should aim for quality theatre and for good craftsmanship.


What is your opinion of Antony and Cleopatra as the IEB setwork in comparison to Coriolanus as the previous setwork? What is your opinion of its relevance … here, now?

Well, where Coriolanus is highly politicised, and full of war, Antony and Cleopatra enables us to delve deeper into personal conversations … So, moving from Coriolanus as political to Antony and Cleopatra as more personal, a personal love story, is really interesting purely in terms if enabling our audience to relate to the tragedy. I think that the students will find it more relatable because they will see the relationships … they will see its Bold and the Beautiful quality, but we will hopefully be able to get across to them that ‘actually, guys, it’s not Romeo and Juliet; it is a far more mature and political love story’. It is a love story that happens in private places, but affects the public and affects the politics outside of itself. And it is the story of the demise of a relationship. It is not the perfect relationship from the beginning ... I am also ecstatic that we can have the conversation about racial dynamics, about Africa and Shakespeare, about decolonisation, about that kind of relevance in Antony and Cleopatra. So hopefully some of the students will be able to pick up on those dynamics. I particularly cast this production with that in mind, thinking, ‘I cannot have Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra.’ I cannot have that, or rehash that, because in our context, we need to represent Egypt correctly, and the students themselves need to see actors who look like them – in Africa. That’s our ‘in’ – that’s our relevance. And we have to pay homage to that. So that’s why I think it’s great. In Antony and Cleopatra, we have gender politics, and a woman in power, and the fall of a male figure, which, in our current conversations of our #MeToo campaigns, is all unbelievably topical for the students, and I hope they pick up on that.

Can you elaborate on what you have noted in terms of Cleopatra’s power and prominence as a female character?

Well, it’s important to remember that, sure, she did some crazy things to stay in power, but she is not just a sex symbol. She knows that she is beautiful, and she knows that she has sex appeal, but she is clever enough to use that to her advantage politically. So she is not just a one-track woman there to be a woman and to annoy the men by being in power. She is there because she is intelligent, and because she is capable of running a country, and running an empire, really. And she is the only character who maintains her honour even in death … Even though she is going to be captured, she still makes her own choice. Her oppressors cannot oppress her because she chooses her own way to die, and that’s also echoing so many of the dialogues we are having about gender equality and feminism. If the students can just pick up some of those dynamics, I think an incredibly beneficial conversation can come out of it.

What are your thoughts on the contrast between Egypt and Rome as a corollary or analogue for West and Non-West?

Well, in terms of representing Egypt and Rome in this production, neither the production designer nor I wanted to go for clichéd versions of Rome and Egypt. We didn’t want Cleopatra to be full of gold necklaces, with a snake around her neck. And we didn’t want Rome to be looked at as only … metal and armour. So what we’ve gone for instead is Egypt as textured and patterned, and Rome as plain, in beiges and greys. I think it is a great metaphor for how we want to view the two places – that, yes, Rome is austere and lavish as one of the empires of the world at that point, but it’s actually in Egypt that we find the most visceral experiences and it’s Egypt that is complex, and it’s because of its complexity that it’s interesting. And also, Egypt is definitely portrayed in a better light than Rome is in the play. Egypt is where everybody wants to be, and Cleopatra, as a representation of Egypt, holds the most power in the play… so it is inverting some of the colonising politics that we are so used to. That Rome or the West is grappling for power, whereas Egypt just naturally seems to have all the power, and all the gold, and all the minerals and resources, and the appeal … is incredibly interesting, and something we have sought to portray in this production. Everything lies with Egypt, and we want to point out the difference between the dutiful Rome and the rich Egypt. At the same time, we are showing that both of these places are very complex. They are not just decadent OR dutiful. They have to clash with each other in various ways throughout the piece, so we had to leave room for that as well.

Can you elaborate on what you said in terms of the private and public nature of this love story? Does the existence of this love story across boundaries suggest that the geopolitical can be transcended?

I cannot help thinking, ‘Yes it can be transcended but we cannot ignore the results of it.’ These two people have this relationship that they probably shouldn’t have. Yes, it works for them and, yes, the geopolitical can be and is transcended and neither of them are apologetic about it. But their society flounders around that, trying to grapple with it. And even though the play happens in private spaces and we only hear about public happenings, whatever they do between themselves affects the society at large … You know, I didn’t realise before I analysed the play that Cleopatra starts at age 39 and Antony starts at age 53, and the play spans over ten years. So, it doesn’t start off as young love and it certainly doesn’t end with a youthful energy, so it has the gravitas that Romeo and Juliet lacks. I think it’s so interesting because the children might start off as seeing it as young and playful but there has to be a realisation that, actually, they are making mature decisions, considering what is around them, and considering what they want and need from each other in terms of the political weight of their roles in their separate societies … I think that the tragic fall of Antony is that he becomes a version of himself that he no longer recognises. He constantly tries to live up to the previous image of himself as a soldier, an honourable man, but his love for Cleopatra slowly changes him, and so much so that … he hardly recognises that he is changing. But I think we can say that all the way through, Antony actually knows that Cleopatra has that power. And she knows that too. And so, nowhere do you see him saying, ‘I didn’t see this coming. She’s a temptress!’ He knows it is he who consciously said yes and that’s the difference here, which I like.

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In terms of your work as the director, what process you have followed in terms of casting, production design, staging?

I started with a lot of research into the play, and knew that I wanted to represent Egypt correctly at least, so I was looking for a strong black actress to play Cleopatra. I wanted a cast who could bring an African spirit to the production, and a local energy, people who could interpret the text, because we only have four weeks to rehearse it. And if you’ve had training in Shakespeare, or if you’ve been in a Shakespeare before, it is so helpful from the getgo, so that you can understand the iambic, work with the rhythm, forget about all of the technical stuff, and then act. So there was that. But, for me, the number one, most important thing that I was looking for in auditions was: does this actor … have the ability to play and improvise and work in an ensemble? Because they’ll be touring for four months together … They can’t get bored, they can’t fall into a rut, and they can’t hate each other. So you need open, generous actors who are willing to get up onto a stage and play. And I luckily managed to get all of that in one cast of nine beautiful actors, some who are fresh out of their training and some who have been in the industry for a few years. I started rehearsals off by getting them all into one room and doing a full day of ensemble work. We purposefully did not touch the text for the first two days. We just did ensemble work, chorus work, played with energy, got to know one another, bonded as director and cast, and learnt to trust one another. We then got the amazing Lucy Wilde in, who has an MA in Shakespeare, has been reading Shakespeare since she was seven and is one of the most knowledgeable Shakespeare practitioners I have ever met. She did a workshop on the technique of iambic pentameter with actors, and then worked through the script with them. We got the iambic into everyone’s bodies, and that showed us where the shared lines are, and how fast the conversation moves between Antony and Cleopatra, or how much thought there is in the pauses where there are iambic beats but no dialogue. And from then onwards, we got into rehearsing with the set and the costumes, which is an amazing privilege. We then worked with spatial dynamics, going through each act for meaning first, and then putting each act on the floor. We have worked on creating imagery that makes sense to us, thinking, ‘So this relationship changes here or this argument happens here. How can we put that in the space?’ And since we have been working with images a lot, any information that we actually miss in the play is incorporated as an image. For example, our production starts with an image of Fulvia’s funeral, as without that death, nothing else happens. Without that inciting incident, Antony doesn’t have a reason to return to Rome. He could have just stayed with Cleopatra. So, any information that we may miss out because of the focus on the love story, we have reinserted. And the other thing that I have to point out is that because we have to take the play from three hours to one and a half hours, most of the cuts that we’ve done have been specifically around focusing on the love story, and the politics in so far as it affects the lovers. So, any of the scenes where they are just talking about the war are taken out because this is not Coriolanus, and I think the students have to know the difference between that kind of political play and this tragic love story. So that’s what we do – block out each act, work on line exchanges and relationships and then polish as much as we can! It’s quite a nice, fast-paced process, but, again, if you have actors who are open, and generous, and can play, it’s a lot easier because they just end up offering you things on the spot, and you just say, ‘Okay, cool, let’s do that.’

That’s lovely because it then develops organically out of the energy you’ve developed between them.

Exactly! Because we have a Q&A after the show, we have kept a mindmap in the rehearsal space, so that every time we do an analysis of the text, we have these debates and conversations and we write down the important quotes and the things that have come out of it, because, to me, there’s nothing better than a Q&A where the person playing Antony says, ‘I think Antony is feeling this in this moment’ and then Cleopatra says, ‘No, I think Antony is feeling this in this moment’ … where the actors themselves are able to show two completely different interpretations of the same text, and then the students go, ‘Oh, hang on, I’ve got to open my mind a little. Shakespeare isn’t all black and white. There are a lot of grey areas. There is a lot to argue about.’ Even though he’s put it all in the text, because it’s so layered, it could go either way. So, we try and maintain that openness and discussion as we continue with rehearsals.

What has guided your approach to directing Antony and Cleopatra?

I think it has mostly been guided by image theatre. I’m a highly visual person, so the most difficult thing about Antony and Cleopatra is that it’s very filmic. It switches from Egypt to Rome and Athens to Egypt to Rome … So, for me, the overarching challenge has been to ensure that it makes sense visually. If there is something missing in the text, we will show it, although we certainly won’t be oversignifying. The number one thing is that we ensure it is visually strong so that the language becomes accessible: whether it’s the people in the space and how their relationship creates tension in the space, or whether it’s turning props into something else … For example, we’ve got these beautiful, blue turban scarves that the Romans use and we use that as water and as sails for the ships as well. So, it’s about being able to use your imagination, and about turning the stage into anything that it needs to be with a very minimal set, as well as minimalistic props and costumes, and I think that’s quite similar to how they would have done it in Shakespeare’s time … on a budget, and with very little to signify outside of the language.

What has guided your adaptation of the text?

In terms of the text and the cuts we have made, Rohan Quince is an English teacher who helped us with the cuts – so he gave us a great framework to begin with, and then I went with Lucy and I checked all of the iambic pentameter to ensure that if any of the cuts happened, we were still on the rhythm, because the text is what the students will write their exams on. In terms of other adaptations, I have been very candid with the cast, and I’ve said, ‘There’s a song here that they sing in Egypt. Please can we make it South African.’ We’ve got drums that the cast use and they sing all the time. Fulvia’s funeral at the beginning of the play has a traditional Zulu song, so there are points where I want to pick out something that will make the students go, ‘Hah! I know that. I understand that.’ So we haven’t adapted it to a completely different context at all, but we have recognised that it is happening in Africa, here, in front of these students, in 2018 … In essence, we’re trying to please the puritans while trying to be relevant and modern enough for the students who struggle with Shakespeare.

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Have you encountered any difficulties in directing this production?

Not as yet. I think that the difficulty in the initial stages of doing a Shakespeare is learning the words without feeling inhibited or controlled by the language – trying to own it yourself so that the language come from a very natural place. By the beginning of the third week, the actors are off book so that we have a full week to play with the language and see how we can breathe into the language. A lot of people tend to separate the language from the body, and we don’t realise that everything we say comes from an impulse. It is physical or mental, so that’s the challenge. This ensemble is great and very committed, so I haven’t had difficulties within the ensemble. It is more about grappling with the vastness of the text, and the vastness of the metaphors, and the vastness of the meaning, and the imagery that comes out of that.

What would you say is the primary aim of your production? When the students leave the world of the production, what is the one thing you want them to have learnt or experienced?

That Shakespeare isn’t just a dead, white guy. You know, the current debate is: should we still have Shakespeare as a core part of our school syllabus? I don’t know. That’s certainly not for me to answer at the moment in terms of the English syllabus, as I want Drama to remain part of our literary study, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be Shakespeare. Certainly in terms of the matric Drama syllabus, the benefit of Shakespeare is that the actors learn to work with heightened language. But, regardless of what you may feel in terms of Shakespeare’s relevance in the curriculum, if audiences can walk away going, ‘I see something of my life in that story’ or, ‘I recognise a character that I know in that story’, then that’s enough because that breeds curiosity, and hopefully that will lead to an understanding and appreciation for the theatre, and for the text.

What is your general approach to Shakespeare in South Africa?

I think it has to go case by case, honestly, depending on the context, the intentions, the people who are producing it. I think you cannot afford to present Shakespeare in a dated fashion, nor can you afford to assume that Shakespeare is for an elite audience. So, Shakespeare has a place in some contexts, and he has relevance in some contexts, and it can just as easily be legitimately torn apart and used in other contexts. So I think it really does depend on the circumstances. But maybe if Shakespeare were an African woman, I’d have a different answer.


... maybe if Shakespeare were an African woman, I’d have a different answer.


What are your favourite lines from Antony and Cleopatra?

Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale
Her infinite variety: other women cloy
The appetites they feed, but she makes hungry,
Where most she satisfies.


Performance Information:

It tours from February - May at IEB schools countrywide, with a showcase performance from 18 - 21 April at the National Children's Theatre

The Creative Team:

Produced by National Children’s Theatre and Renos Nicos Spanoudes
Directed by Néka Da Costa
Set and Costume Design by Sarah Roberts

The Cast:

The Cast:

Ben Kgosimore as Mark Antony
Sanelisiwe Yekani as Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt
Sibusiso Mkhize as Enobarbus
Cassius Davids as Octavius Caesar
Carlos Williams as Pompey
Megan van Wyk as Iras and Octavia
Campbell Meas as Charmian and Agrippa
Neo Sibiya as Eros and Lepidus
Kevin Koopman as Alexas, Varrius, Scarus, and Diomedes

Ticket prices are R100 per learner

For enquiries and bookings, please contact bookings@nctt.org.za


Look out for Part 2 of Interview Series #7 at the start of April, in which we conduct a group interview with the cast involved in NCT's production of Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra.

Actors Share Their "Taming of the Shrew" Experiences: Interview Series Special Edition (Part 2)

A historic production of The Taming of the Shrew featuring an all-female lineup is currently showing at the Maynardville Open-Air Festival in Cape Town. Shakespeare ZA spoke to some of the stars of the production: Buhle Ngaba (Bianca), Lynita Crofford (Baptista), Ann Juries (Grumio), Kate Pinchuck (Hortensio), and Naledi Majola (Tranio).

Buhle Ngaba as Bianca in The Taming of the Shrew 4 - photo by Jesse Kramer.jpg

Buhle Ngaba

as Bianca

Photo Credit: Jesse Kramer.

Tell us a little bit about your character. What can audiences expect from her?

I play Bianca (although I've given her the nickname "Binx", so that's what the cast call her), sass queen extraordinaire and Katharina's younger sister. I've found playing her so much fun because she is actually quite a complex character; she is the centre of most men’s universe and she knows this and plays it to her advantage. Bianca knows there is currency to be gained in playing the patriarchal society she lives in, so that's exactly what she does. She's uncompromising, has a huge heart, and audiences can expect a lot of laughs from her. 

How have you experienced performing as part of an all-female cast?

I have really loved being part of an all-female cast and I am in awe of the womxn I step onto stage with each night. To be surrounded by grit, determination, and perseverance is inspiring, and I'm incredibly proud of our cast. 


The opportunity to directly disrupt perceptions of Shakespeare has been wonderful.


What attracted you to doing this play?

I was attracted to do this play because I won the Brett Goldin Bursary in 2016 and was given the opportunity to go to the Royal Shakespeare Company, and so the opportunity to implement all that I learnt there in #TamingCT has been wonderful. 

What has been the most rewarding part of the your role for so far?

The most rewarding aspect of my role so far has been the opportunity to play a young and fresh Bianca of colour for young audiences. Representation within the arts community is still so limited in so many ways, so the opportunity to directly disrupt perceptions of Shakespeare has been wonderful. 

Lynita Crofford as Baptista in The Taming of the Shrew 2 - photo by Jesse Kramer.jpg

Lynita Crofford

as Baptista

Photo credit: Jesse Kramer.

Tell us a little bit about your character. What can audiences expect from him?

Baptista is a wealthy businessman and father to Katherina and Bianca. He loves both of his daughters, even the strong willed Katherina, but has a soft spot for his younger daughter Bianca. He is a very powerful character and is held in high esteem. Baptista is driven by his love of money.

How have you experienced performing as part of an all-female cast?

It has been a wonderful process. The cast are extremely supportive and generous and rehearsals have been a lot of fun, with lots of laughter and a sharing of various experiences.

Could you tell us about what you have felt and/or learned in the process of playing a male character?

For me it was all about finding the physicality of the character. I spent a lot of time observing men. How they walk and sit, and the way they speak. It was also interesting to discover how comfortable it is wearing men’s clothing! 


The cast are extremely supportive and generous, and rehearsals have been a lot of fun ...


What attracted you to doing this play?

I really wanted to do another Shakespeare play and perform at Maynardville again. The last time was in 1983 when I played the part of the widow in The Taming of the Shrew. I also loved the fact that it was going to be all female cast and I that I would get  to work with Tara again.

How does this production compare to other projects you have performed in or worked for?

For the past 4 years I have mainly been performing in solo shows so it’s great to be part of a company.

Ann Juries

as Grumio

Photo credit: Jesse Kramer.

Tell us a little bit about your character. What can audiences expect from him?

Grumio is the truth-teller. While he is a funny character and perceived to be a jester by the other characters, he is wise and insightful. In the play he is a lonely servant to Petruchio,  but he uses his position to communicate directly with the audience. He provides foreshadowing and warnings to the audience from his very first scene, so the audience is like his lifeline, his confidant. He is beaten and belittled throughout, but still makes light of situations. He dances and serves his master diligently – but don’t be fooled by his loyalty. He is sympathetic and knows right from wrong. He freely shares his knowledge because it is all he has to give.

How have you experienced performing as part of an all-female cast? 

Being part of this all-female cast has been a highlight of my career. Every day we share stories, we analyse the play and find new nuances. The support from this ensemble has been something I have never experienced before within a cast. All of us come from different cultural and socio-economic backgrounds, but we have so much in common. These womxn are so generous with their talents, stories and experiences. I have made lifelong friends and have learnt things about acting and life that no book or YouTube tutorial can teach.


The more I embraced what I have to offer as a storyteller and South African the more I found confidence in playing in my own dialect and really exploring the vastness of the English language.


What attracted you to doing this play?

I have read the play before and I remembered feeling very disturbed by the abuse and representation of womxn. When I heard that Tara was staging it this year, at first I was shocked that in this day and age we would be telling the story of Taming a womxn, especially with the current rape crisis and bullying that is happening in our society. But after reading her brief and that we would have the opportunity to play men, I was immediately intrigued. I think the biggest attraction was that I knew that every actor’s interpretation would inform the way the message would come through. And this was comforting: that an all-female cast was not going to perpetuate the paradigm that womxn should be silenced.

What has your experience been of working with a Shakespeare play in a South African context?

I think that performing Shakespeare in a South African context comes with its challenges: for example, the text has references to Elizabethan music and poetry which we do not relate to here and now. Also, our country is very diverse. Finding a way to incorporate the essence of SA culture, like different races, dialects and even fashions has been a beautiful process as an actor. I had days where I doubted if my interpretation of Grumio was serving the writing, but the more I embraced what I have to offer as a storyteller and South African the more I found confidence in playing in my own dialect and really exploring the vastness of the English language. The issues that Shakespeare wrote about in this play are universal and timeless … and if you can find a truthful way to tell the story, well, then no matter where it is set, you will be heard and understood.

What has been the most rewarding part of the your role for so far?

The most rewarding part for me has been the fact that I am part of such an historic event in South African theatre. We are changing the game and doing it proudly.

Kate Pinchuck as Hortensio in The Taming of the Shrew 2 - photo by Jesse Kramer.jpg

Kate Pinchuck

as Hortensio

Photo credit: Jesse Kramer.

Tell us a little bit about your character. What can audiences expect from him?

I’m playing Hortensio. He’s this spoilt rich kid with a lot of feelings and very bad fashion. He’s best friends with Petruchio, who is the antagonist of Kate (the shrew of the play’s title). He’s deeply in love with Bianca, Kate’s younger sister, and is constantly undertaking ridiculous schemes to try and win her heart.

How have you experienced performing as part of an all-female cast?

Performing as part of an all-female cast has been an incredible experience. The cast has made an incredibly supportive and understanding space, where knowledge and experience can be shared and exchanged. The cast members are also all hilarious, so that helps.


Playing a man meant I had to be a lot more conscious of how I walked through space, how direct and clear my gestural and physical language needed to be, and how I stood.


Could you tell us about what you have felt and/or learned in the process of playing a male character?

I think what was most interesting for me was considering how much the construction of gender influences how different individuals take up space in the world. Playing a man meant I had to be a lot more conscious of how I walked through space, how direct and clear my gestural and physical language needed to be, and how I stood. In doing that, I realised how much time I spend in my life as a woman trying to make myself smaller and avoid being in anyone’s way. We looked at the way womxn are expected to take everyone else’s comfort into consideration before their own, whereas often, in general, men are allowed to just be: to just exist as they are. So playing that was fascinating and quite liberating and now I bump into men on the pavement a lot.

How did you prepare for your role? Were there any challenges or surprises involved?

I suppose it could be considered both a challenge and a surprise that I ended up having to learn to play the ukulele, an instrument which I did not previously play. That was terrifying, but also a lot of fun. And now I have a bad uke version of Wonderwall to whip out when people ask me if I have any special skills.

What attracted you to doing this play?

The idea of an all-female team was incredibly appealing to me, as well as the potential to play a male character on stage. I’ve also never worked professionally on a Shakespeare, which was exciting. I’m also always on board for any kind of updating and re-contextualising of a canonical work.

What has been the most rewarding part of the your role for so far?

It’s great to get to be funny physically as well as verbally. I think the way in which I find my character funny or where I feel his comedy sits is often a type of physical comedy generally reserved for men, so I’m having the best time playing a character in a way that I’ve never really been able to before and rolling around and being ridiculous is incredibly satisfying. I’m covered in bruises, but it’s totally worth it.

Naledi Majola and Masali Baduza in The Taming of the Shrew. Photo credit Jesse Kramer4956.jpg

Naledi Majola

as Tranio (left)

Photo credit: Jesse Kramer.

Tell us a little bit about your character. What can audiences expect from him?

Tranio is a super loyal friend. He embarks on a series of wild escapades and deceptions all for the sake of Lucentio: he is (mostly) motivated by his love for his friend. However, he does not do this all for nothing. He allows himself to get something out of it by revelling in the experience of being the number one guy in town for once. He is quick-witted, ambitious and loves a good time. By the end of the play, however, he begins to get a glimpse into the nightmarishness of the world around him and his complicity in that. 

How did you prepare for your role? Were there any challenges or surprises involved?

I started where I always start when doing text-based work, and that is with the text itself. It demanded in-depth analysis and research into what is being said by and about my character as well as why any of that is being said in the first place. I then allowed myself to find the connections between the character and myself. I thought about life within a hierarchy and what it’s like having to oscillate between different positions of power within that hierarchy. One of the more challenging aspects for me was finding a clear delineation between the voice and physicality of Tranio and the voice and physicality of Tranio-as-Lucentio. This is something I focused (and still try to focus) on refining. 

Could you comment on your interpretation of your role? How is it similar or different from what might be expected?

I think the essential aspects of the character are still reflected in my interpretation such as his intelligence and self-confidence. However, how the character reacts to certain situations may be different from what is expected due to the overall interpretation of the story on the part of the director. 


Things move at a lightning pace when doing work of this scale so an actor must remain on their toes at all times.


How does this production compare to other projects you have performed in or worked for?

This is my first professional production outside of drama school and doing smaller-scale independent theatre so it is quite different from any other experience that I have had. The stakes felt very high due to the significance of the Maynardville festival. Things move at a lightning pace when doing work of this scale so an actor must remain on their toes at all times. However, the experience was also familiar in that there was still room for fun and play. 

What has been the most rewarding part of the your role for so far?

I think finding the connection between myself and a character that is supposedly far away from me has been rewarding. It’s amazing being able to relate aspects of your life and personality to the character’s as it enables you to play more truthfully.

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The Taming of the Shrew will be running until 3 March at the Maynardville Open-Air Theatre in Cape Town.

Tara Notcutt and The Shrew: Interview Series Special Edition (Part 1)

Tara Notcutt - photo by Sophie Kirsch 3 (1).jpg

Tara Notcutt

Director and Producer

Photo Credit: Sophie Kirsch

A historic production of The Taming of the Shrew featuring an all-female lineup is currently showing at the Maynardville Open-Air Festival in Cape Town. Shakespeare ZA spoke to director and producer Tara Notcutt about her take on the play as “comedy-horror”, the staging process, and what the Shrew contributes to the #MeToo conversation.

For newcomers to the play, how would you describe The Taming of the Shrew in basic terms?

How I see it, and how we’ve staged it for a modern audience in 2018: The Taming of the Shrew is a comedy-horror about a woman restricted by archaic values still held by some men today, and how systematic misogyny and oppressions of a patriarchy left unchecked lead to her downfall.

In plainer terms, it is as much a comedy as Bob Dylan is a good singer.

Why did you want to direct this specifc Shakespeare play?

I wanted to take on something that I knew would be challenge, as well as something that would respond to what’s currently happening in the world. Seriously though: I thought it would be interesting to do an all-female Two Gentlemen of Verona, but then when I realised I would be not only directing, but self-producing, I thought I better find something that would have a bit more commercial appeal.

People have also asked me why I would want to do this show in the first place, and I quote, “Because no one really thinks that way about women anymore, right?” Wrong. I think what makes this a dangerous and important play is the fact that the values in it are not completely of a bygone time; some aspects are just around in much more subtle, subversive ways.


It is as much a comedy as Bob Dylan is a good singer.


 Kate (Alicia McCormick) and Petruchio (Daneel van der Walt). Photo credit: Jesse Kramer.

Kate (Alicia McCormick) and Petruchio (Daneel van der Walt). Photo credit: Jesse Kramer.

Your production boasts an all-female cast and creative team. Could you comment on how this speaks to the current discourses surrounding gender and the position of women, both in South Africa and abroad?

It has been fascinating doing this play with an all-female company, especially in a #MeToo / #TimesUp world, and in the wake of #MenAreTrash early last year. The deeper we have dug, the more we have realised just how appropriate it is to be doing this play in the way we are doing it now.

The strong female cast is a particularly exciting choice for The Taming of the Shrew, as characters such as Petruchio have often been interpreted as being misogynistic. How do you approach the more volatile points of the play in your interpretation?   

I think the female cast highlights the misogyny all the more clearly. When you’re sitting in an audience watching a performer (who you know is female) portraying a man, you start to receive what they say in a much clearer way. It’s like listening to songs from the early 2000s (when the play is set): there’s latent, quiet, subtle misogyny written into all the songs we get nostalgic about (which I think also says a lot about why young men of a certain generation feel the way that they do about things – because it’s been subliminally drilled into them from a young age). The play is similar in that way: it’s difficult to ignore the more tense, cruel, awful moments when you know it’s a woman saying those lines. In this way, we’ve been able to really dig deep into the more volatile areas, instead of skating around them.


It's difficult to ignore the more tense, cruel, awful moments when you know it's a woman saying those lines.


Could you tell us a bit more about the creative process behind staging the play?

It has been the most wonderful, intense experience I have ever had in a rehearsal room. Not only have I directed it, but I am also self-producing (as I mentioned), which adds a whole other kind of intensity to the process. I like to be as collaborative as possible, and really enjoy creating an environment where performers feel like they can play, make suggestions, and try things out. It’s also particularly wonderful to work with my sister, Cleo, as choreographer, as she really just gets me. There’s a shorthand when we work together, and I can often leave her with just a few words to describe a moment and I’ll see it later and it’ll be spot on. My Assistant Director Dara Beth has been amazing, as has my Stage Manager / Assistant Lighting Designer / The Widow – Ameera Conrad. They are excellent young directors in their own right and it’s been extremely valuable having their outside eyes on the play with me.

Also, when you have a cast as talented and clever and daring as mine is, it makes one’s job extremely easy.

 In rehearsal: Ann Juries (left) and Daneel van der Walt (right). 

In rehearsal: Ann Juries (left) and Daneel van der Walt (right). 

What do you feel Shakespeare’s place is in South African theatre?

I’ve loved Shakespeare since I was a small child. I grew up at Maynardville; going with my dad since I was very young, and it was my first job out of university. I feel like there are a lot of parallels to be found in the modern world, and what has been so exciting about this production is that we’ve been able to take a classic text and bring it into the modern understanding, showing that there is a huge relevance and a lot to talk about from it.

Shakespeare can also be hella boring, but I think that if directors take the time to explore how it relates to a modern audience, there is a lot of value to it.

What do you hope the production brings to the discussion surrounding Shakespeare in South Africa?

For me, it has reignited my passion for Shakespeare, and that’s really something. All of our schools performances are sold out, which is incredible, and I hope that young people coming to watch have a good time, feel like they can access it, and walk away not only finding something relevant about it, but also engaging with the conversations that a play like The Taming of the Shrew brings up.


"My tongue will tell the anger of my heart / Or else my heart concealing it will break."


Do you have a favourite moment or piece of dialogue from the play? 

So many things! One of my favourite things is not a specific moment, but in Act 1 Scene 2 we meet Petruchio, and a lot of the men in the play talk to each other. What happens in that scene is the plot gets explained about 4 times – each by a different person. It’s the ultimate mansplaining.

One of my other favourite lines is when Baptista – the father – has just broken up a fight between his daughters and he looks directly at the audience and says “Was ever a gentleman thus grieved as I?” – and it’s hilarious. It’s like when my dad gets a cold and it’s the absolute end of the world; it’s so wonderfully self-pitying, and Lynita Crofford plays it to perfection.

Another favourite, which breaks my heart, is when Kate (played by the magnificent Alicia McCormick) says “My tongue will tell the anger of my heart / Or else my heart concealing it will break”. It’s devastating.

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The Taming of the Shrew will be running until 3 March. Look out for Part 2 of this Special Edition of the Interview Series, in which we speak to the actors involved in the Maynardville Shrew