DIANE DE BEER
“My words fly up, my thoughts remain below: Words without thoughts never to heaven go” William Shakespeare, Hamlet
Stories are never on pause, explains Artistic Director of the Market Theatre, James Ngcobo, as he reveals their latest theatrical celebration which starts during this Women’s Month: Chilling with the Bard, a Shakespeare Season.
And for those of us trying to keep track of the creative juices of Ngcobo, it’s been a sweet ride as he tries to navigate the Covid 19 curve ball which has almost brought the world to a standstill.
I knew the creatives would find different ways to market and move their stories even when their winning ticket – live theatre – was cancelled and closed from the start and will probably be prohibited for the rest of the year.
Yet from the start of the first lockdown, Ngcobo knew he had to find ways to keep theatre going, to embrace rather than defy lockdown. “I commissioned 10 new works all of which are available on our social media platforms and some of which will be reworked next year to stage live,” he says.
Then he turned to a handful of especially young actors to do monologues reflecting on their world and the life we are inhabiting now. “Theatre will rise again,” he says but in the meantime it has given him the opportunity to showcase some performers who are Market regulars but also others he has always hoped to put on stage.
“Covid hasn’t stifled our passion, just moved it into another space.”
He also connected with dancers like Vincent Mantsoe in Paris, writers like Napo Masheane were given a scenario and asked to write something and others to tell their own stories while an international jazz hook-up was also made. He had to find ways to woo audiences to watch and is thrilled by the response – with numbers watching rising constantly as all the work can be easily accessed for free.
Many of these plays will also be staged at the Market once live performances are given the go-ahead. “I envision two weekends of short plays for example where audiences move around from one 20 minute play to another,” he says. For him it is important to stage new work and not just look at what they had available.
This latest season is based on speeches from some of Shakespeare’s iconic plays, mostly written for male characters. They have been carefully picked and partnered with the perfect actress, according to Ngcobo.
These past few months and those ahead have been all about finding ways to work not only for audiences but also for actors. Reversing the roles in this Shakespeare season, Ngcobo hoped to excite both parties with roles that where written more than 400 years ago but are still relevant today.
In an Oprah Masterclass podcast with Maya Angelou, relevance is underlined with the following Angelou musings:
“I read Shakespeare,” she says speaking of herself at a very young age, approximately 12. “I memorised 50 sonnets or something. But I read one sonnet that made me think, Shakespeare must be a black girl from the South who may have been molested. How could he know?”
And then she recites…
In disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my outcast state,
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself and curse my fate.
“Shakespeare knew what it was to be raped and scorned, so of course, (and she laughs) I thought he was a black girl, barefoot in the South. It spoke to me.” And who can argue that!
Ngcobo expounds: “I think it’s important that we’re not locked in by the myopia of gender and race,” he says, something that world theatre has embraced as audiences become more adventurous in their viewing choices.
“It is really a marvel that almost 400 years after he wrote this great literature, we are still intrigued and engulfed in this magnificent work of brilliance. Shakespeare poured his heart and imagination into these wonderous stories that have been acclaimed, enjoyed, and staged over the years.” said Ngcobo.
Running through his options he talks about his choices for the season:
Eleven of Mzansi finest female actresses take on performing one hander plays on the John Kani stage, showcasing their diverse talent with extraordinary acting. “I’m hoping that this amazing combination of talent will breathe new life to these ancient yet living texts,” says Ngcobo.
Arsema Thomas is an American actress currently working in South Africa. She has African parents and wanted to work on the continent. Encouraged by Moonyeenn Lee, Ngcobo auditioned her and was delighted she could participate. The first part is a speech by Rosland in As You Like It (Act 3 scene 5) and then as Lady Percy from Henry 4 Part II (Act 2 scene 3)
Awethu Hleli first caught Ngcobo’s attention working for Cape Town’s Magnet Theatre. She’s multi-talented, a UCT graduate and moves easily from theatre to the screen. Her monologue is as Malvolio from Twelfth Night, Act 5 scene 1.
Bianca Amato will be remembered by Isidingo fans before she left for the US where she has been amassing a stream of awards. But she’s back home and her contribution is Brutus’s speech from Julius Caesar Act 3, scene 2.
Camilla Waldman has perhaps been seen more often on TV screens than on stage lately, but anything she touches turns to gold as one can witness in the monologue from The Tragedy of King Richard the Third – Act 1, scene 1 as Richard, Duke of Gloucester, afterwards King Richard III.
Charmaine Weir-Smith, a director, writer, actor was last seen in a stunning performance in Paul Slabolepszy’s Suddenly The Storm and also directing Dawid Minnaar and John Kani with a full heart in Fugard’s The Train Driver. She will be doing one of two sonnets, Sonnet 29 “When in disgrace with Fortune and men’s eyes …”
Kate Liquorish was most recently seen in M-Net’s Still Breathing and on Netflix’s Queen Sono (with Ngcobo) and on stage in a dramatic turn in Sam Shepard’s Fool for Love. She will be playing King Richard II, Act 3 Scene 2 in King Richard II.
Leila Henriques starred luminously in the Greg Homann-directed Florence and with great insight directed the award-winning Hani: The Legacy with the Market Lab students. She will be playing Viola in Twelfth Night.
Renate Stuurman, also part of Suddenly the Storm cast and very familiar to television audiences will be doing the second sonnet – Sonnet 13 – My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun.
Rorisang Motuba jumps in at the deep end with Shylock from Merchant of Venice’s To Bait Fish Withal. She’s a storyteller who approaches her craft from many exciting and different angles.
Tinarie van Wyk Loots performed at the Market in a Zakes Mda play directed by John Kani, but she is better known for her Afrikaans stage work, which is seen most often at festivals. Versatile and with the bravado of someone who dares to try anything and fly, she opts for Hamlet in no less than the title role – and pulls it off magnificently.
Sarah Richard comes from local theatre royalty (daughter of Michael Richard and Louise Saint Claire) and Ncgobo, who loves giving young actors their chance on stage, leapt at the opportunity for her to play Launce from Two Gentlemen of Verona.
Vanessa Cooke is synonymous with the Market Theatre and the Lab and as such becomes what Ngcobo refers to as the ringmaster for this Shakespeare celebration. She plays Jaques in As You Like it with The Ages of Man speech, Act 2 Scene 7.
Zethu Dlomo Mphahlele is a dynamic force on stage and screen with a big international presence. A WITS graduate, she doesn’t flinch while playing Macbeth, Act 3 scene 1.
The Market will start releasing the different performances from this Thursday with an explosive Camilla Waldman opening the season and following with a new monologue each week on Thursdays at 12. Check their website http://www.markettheatre.co.za and their facebook page for details.