Internet Shakespeare Editions

Shakespeare in South Africa: Yael Farber's SeZar -- page 2

Background

"Julius Caesar is a powerhouse play for Africa - the raw, passionate, spiritual world that Shakespeare lived in and wrote about has more heat and relevance in Africa than any European could understand."

These are the opening words of director Yael Farber's programme notes for her commissioned production SeZaR, which premiered at the 2001 National Arts Festival in Grahamstown, South Africa. The production made a galvanic impact at that festival and has continued to do so on tour. It was a production that perhaps signaled a new role for Shakespeare in post-apartheid South Africa. Farber continues in her feisty fashion:

. . . South Africans have a proximity to the heat, violence, honour and heart that playing Shakespeare requires. Iambic pentameter and Elizabethan verse have a rhythm and vitality that ignites when stripped of its civility, and is rediscovered with African passion and vernacular languages invading the English. It is this heat that will make South African audiences sit up and begin to understand that our time is now - far from suggesting that we can "manage" Shakespeare in this country - we in fact have the capacity to kick its butt!

Audiences in Grahamstown - more important than the critics - were impressed, and the production seems to have been appreciated at later stints in Cape Town and Johannesburg. There were also two successful "full-house" runs at the Oxford Playhouse and another in Winchester in the United Kingdom. This was followed by an 8-week tour of the UK. True, in evaluating metropolitan responses to African theatre one is often uncertain what weight to ascribe to a shallow taste for exoticism or mere theatrical jadedness, while here in South Africa there were occasional mutterings in progressive intellectual quarters about regressive "African essentialism." But the verdict generally has been that the production "kicked butt," as its director intended.

Yael Farber

Farber is a young South African director making waves.

She graduated from the University of the Witwatersrand in 1993 with a BA (Hons) in Dramatic Art. Her production of Mark Ravenhill's Shopping and Fucking received seven National Vita awards, including best director, and later SeZaR gleaned four, again including the Vita Best Director award. While in New York directing Fugard's Hello and Goodbye at the Access Theatre in Manhattan, she wrote and directed her play A Woman in Waiting, a collaboration with veteran actress Thembi Mtshali, which went on to win a 'Fringe First at the Edinburgh Festival, a Best Performer at the Carthage Festival, A Best New Script Vita Nomination, and recently won the prestigious Gold Sony Award for Radio Drama (for the BBC recording of the piece)' (Gilly Hemphill, Mail and Guardian, 21.11 02). She also claimed the 2002 Standard Bank Young Artist award for Drama.

Other work in includes He Left Quietly (a collaboration with Duma Khumalo who survived three years on South Africa's death row), Amajuba (Like Doves We Rise) -- a collage of five stories from Farber's "wasteland of discarded memories" -- and Molóra, her reworking of the Oresteia Trilogy.

If there is a common thread running through Farber's work, it is her recognition that the tidy ideological schema which forms the surface truth about Africa and South Africa is only half the story, and that it is the untold half that generates the future.

Cast details for the UK tour are available on the SeZaR website at the Oxford Playhouse: http://www.oxfordplayhouse.com/sezar/aboutus.htm

Materials displayed on this website, and more, are kept in the Theatre History section of the National English Literary Museum, Grahamstown: http://www.ru.ac.za/affiliates/nelm/

Laurence Wright
Institute for the Study of English in Africa
Rhodes University

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