Talented students from UKZN’s Drama and Performance Studies Discipline starred in The Past is Prologue during the SHAKESPEAREmustFALL? Theatre Festival at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre.
The stage production is based on several of Shakespeare’s plays including The Tempest, Macbeth and Julius Caesar.
The show involves Shakespeare, played by Sfundo Sosibo, being propelled into the future, possessed of nothing but his own words and finding himself in a world where his works have been reduced to museum-like artefacts of a great tradition.
He is given the opportunity to speak to this while assisting student, Siri, played by Zibuyile Mkhize, and in so doing shatters the divide that separates his works from his living audience.
Audiences were then taken on a whistle stop tour through several of Shakespeare’s most famous works, reimagining them in performance with the production revitalising and resurrecting the theatrical Shakespeare.
UKZN Lecturer and Festival Director Ms Tamar Meskin said: ‘The production plays with ambiguity in seeking to “decolonize” Shakespeare by reinscribing his works with newly imagined meanings, viewed through newly created lenses, which can speak to the ethos of our time.
‘We do so to engage the stories and characters that can speak to and for us through time, but we also make them vehicles for commentary on our present. We cannot change the present by pretending the past did not happen or removing its symbols – abandoning memory is dangerous – we have to understand the past to change the present and shape the future we seek,’ she said.
The students found being a part of the production exhilarating and saw it as both a learning and creative experience.
Sosibo said: ‘Often as a performer, we shy away from Shakespeare but we cannot deny the brilliance of his work and how relevant it still is, centuries later. Playing Shakespeare was daunting but to give him life onstage was such an amazing, fulfilling experience.’
Said Mkhize: ‘Working alongside other students you also get to hone your skills as a performer and your love for performing theatre grows. You really get to experience working in an ensemble cast and as a first year student, I realised how much hard work and effort goes into a theatre production to make it successful and relatable to the audience.’
Ms Nemijia Govender, who plays Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, recalled her experience engaging with Shakespeare’s text. ‘Although I was familiar with his work, being given a script and having to learn and understand his work was intense, but by learning his work, I was able to perform it more accurately and with the correct emotion onstage. It made me appreciate Shakespeare as a playwright and to acknowledge the validity of his work and his relevant key themes of love, hatred, greed and passion.’
Ms Belinda Ndwandwe, who plays the “female” Cassius in Julius Caesar, said: ‘Being a part of this production goes beyond the language and we were given the opportunity to bring some of Shakespeare’s classics to life, as he intended, for theatre.’
Meskin added: ‘It has been an absolute privilege to work with this cast of UKZN students, who have engaged complicated and difficult text with vigour and passion and who have offered so much of themselves to the project. I was fortunate to be assisted in this project by three colleagues - Devaksha Moodley, Kamini Govender and Donna Steel - whose creativity and generosity remind me why I love theatre.’