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Cape Town Theatres

On my way looking for Applied Theatre productions I’ve also watched shows beyond (or even not) the adjective “applied“ (this term should be discussed later, for now it is still too soon to talk about). I will write about two of them, because the plays, the venues and the auditorium were alone, together and in combination fascinating and exhausting.


Number One: Okavango Macbeth (music by Tom Cunningham, libretto by Alexander McCall Smith) in Artscape Theatre, a big theatre and opera complex next to the main station in the city centre full of early-seventy-apartheid’s concrete charm and megalomania. Easter Saturday: The streets were deserted. A big storm raged so heavily that it was a challenge to manage the fifty meters from my car to the entrance. The show started at six, unfortunately the Artscape-Café opened at the same time and not (as I normally would suggest) a bit earlier. It wasn’t only me who was wondering about that. Some other South African theatregoer (a white mother an her three daughters – due to their habitus I would say from one of the wealthy suburbs Camps Bay or Clifton) asked the manager why it was impossible to get some five-roses-tea. A few minutes later the tea was served in the lobby.

The play was presented in an audition room, a lot of corridors, steps and five floors with the elevator away. In the middle, at the right and the left side two rows of chairs for the audience. The usherette didn’t allow me to sit on the left side, I still don’t know why. Stressed out by the storm, the long way and the usherette, I was not in a good mood. But then the play started, and it was great. Not only the storyline – as the title suggests Macbeth in an African adaption – was impressive. More than the postcolonial technique in the tradition of the famous adaptions of Greek and Shakespearean tragedies, for instance written by Ola Rotimi (The Gods Are Not to Blame) and Julius Nyerere (Julius Kaisari) that both reveal colonial power strategies and decolonise the theatre, it convinced me with the big portion of humour and stagecraft. The three Shakespearean witches were presented as three foolish colonialists in full safari look, completed with a mosquito-umbrella and a camera. For me, a kind of persiflage referring to some early plays of so called ‘Theatre for Development’, in which the ‘foolish’ character was often an African from the rural area. Duncan, Lady Macbeth and Macbeth – all of them were baboons in the tradition of African tales and storytelling – managed to highlight the different conflicts with precise gestures and mime to all sides of the stage without needing props and other sceneries.


Two days later in Cape Town. I was on my way to the Baxter Theatre. After leaving the highway next to the university campus, you see this magnificent building turning up in front of the mountain like a futuristic castle of the late 1970s. As a German theatre scholar you cannot believe that this huge and high tech theatre complex belongs to the university of Cape Town. In Germany, university theatre buildings look more like a cheesy off-theatre without any notable technical equipment. I would encourage each and every Cape Town visitor not to miss the view into the foyer when you have passed the entrance.

The Line (script by Gina Shmukler), premiered at the WALE Festival and also staged at Market Theatre in Johannesburg, was presented in the small theatre, called Sanlam Studio with room for approximately 170 visitors. The play focuses on the xenophobia against the ‘(mu)kwerekwere’ – ‘those who speak different languages and slangs’ – most of them Mozambican and Zimbabwean immigrants in Johannesburg. The writer and director Gina Shmukler constructed it after she had interviewed many people who were involved in the xenophobic attacks in 2008. The Line, so called because a line not only marks the border: In the context of crossing a line it also refers to missing respect and dignity to immigrants and refugees from other African countries. Lastly, ‘line’ could be linked to the ‘series’ of attacks, too.

The two actresses Khutjo Green and Gabi Harris play various characters: The South African young black man, one of the perpetrators and the women from Mozambique, whose husband was killed by the mob, only to mention two. Green and Harris present a kaleidoscope of different people, victims, perpetrators, and gazers, bringing them in contrast or starting a dialogue between them. With a broad range of mime and voice technique they play or even imitate them in an outstanding way: When the Mozambican get murdered, the spectator wants to cry, or to weep when the wife tells you about her feelings. But there is always this distance which makes theatre so effective: Due to the facts that the actresses switch between their roles so quickly, that the scenes are short, women play men and that they often speak to the audience breaking the fourth wall, they don’t want to imply reality. Instead, Gina Shmukler gives the audience space and room to feel, think and reflect both the brutality and the tragic consequences of xenophobia and racism. This worked out very well.


(September 2013)