A Bard in Africa: Enjoy these beautiful and evocative images of this month’s groundbreaking Shakespeare Lives in Botswana event

Students from Maru-a-Pula School perform a scene from devised piece Water and Dust at the Shakespeare Lives in Botswana Showcase photographer Monirul Bhuiyan (3)
Students from Maru-a-Pula School perform a scene from devised piece Water and Dust. [Photo: Monirul Bhuiyan]

Shakespeare Lives in Botswana (Shakespeare o a Tshela) concluded with a sold-out Showcase at the Maitisong Theatre in Gaborone, Botswana. The Showcase was part of the global GREAT Britain Campaign and the British Council’s ‘Shakespeare Lives’ project celebrating Shakespeare’s work on the 400th anniversary of his death.
A local actor performs a scene from Macbeth at the Shakespeare Lives in Botswana Showcase photographer Monirul Bhuiyan
A local actor performs a scene from Macbeth. [Photo: Monirul Bhuiyan]

The Showcase featured performances by students from Maru-a-Pula School, Naledi Senior Secondary School, St Joseph’s College, Kagiso Senior Secondary School, Moeding College, Ledumang Senior Secondary School, the University of Botswana, AFDA, the Ministry of Youth, Sport and Culture, and The Company of Maitisong Theatre.
A government school student reads the Shakespeare Lives in Botswana Showcase programme photographer Monirul Bhuiyan
A government school student reads the Shakespeare Lives in Botswana programme. [Photo: Monirul Bhuiyan]

Government school students performed scenes from their set text of Twelfth Night, while other performers presented selected moments from Shakespeare’s work in dynamic and innovative new interpretations of his plays and poetry.

Botswana poets Barolong Seboni, Moroka Moreri and Mandisa Mabuthoe, and musician Zeus, performed newly-commissioned work written especially for the event.
A student from Maru-a-Pula School performs a scene from devised piece Water and Dust at the Shakespeare Lives in Botswana Showcase photographer Lorraine Kinnear (2)
A student from Maru-a-Pula School performs a scene from Water and Dust. [Photo: Lorraine Kinnear]

Students had the opportunity to work with UK and South Africa theatre practitioners who visited Botswana as part of the project:

Gregory Thompson (University College London), Natalie Ibu (Tiata Fahodzi Theatre Company), Ben Spiller (1623 Theatre Company), ShakeXperience Practitioners from South Africa, Nobulali Dangazele and Greg Homann, and Fiona Drummond (Shakespeare’s Globe Education).
A student from Moeding College performs a scene from Twelfth Night at the Shakespeare Lives in Botswana Showcase photographer Lorraine Kinnear
A student from Moeding College performs a scene from Twelfth Night. [Photo: Lorraine Kinnear]

“We are overjoyed to have completed this project in the company of a full house at Maitisong, who were able to see over 100 young people from Botswana performing Shakespeare’s work,” says Project Director Alastair Hagger.
UK High Commissioner to Botswana Katy Ransome holds her copy of Twelfth Night at the Shakespeare Lives in Botswana Showcase photographer Monirul Bhuiyan
UK High Commissioner to Botswana Katy Ransome with her copy of Twelfth Night. [Photo: Lorraine Kinnear]

“The ‘Shakespeare o a Tshela’ project has reached thousands of people in Botswana, and planted the seeds of an enduring love for Shakespeare in the young people of this country.”
Local actors perform a scene from Measure for Measure at the Shakespeare Lives in Botswana Showcase photographer Lorraine Kinnear
Local actors perform a scene from Measure for Measure. [Photo: Lorraine Kinnear]

Go here for more on the Maitisong Theatre and the event.

Go here for more on Shakespeare Lives in 2016.

Go here for more on the GREAT Britain campaign.

Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory’s Bristol production of All’s Well That Ends Well gets plenty of laughs while exploring the dark world of Shakespearean sexual politics

[Images by Mark Douet]

As I watch the actors dance at the end of All’s Well that Ends Well in Bristol’s Tobacco Factory Theatre, I’m unnerved by the contradictory play I’ve just seen. Intelligent and laugh-out-loud funny, All’s Well that Ends Well also tells some uncomfortable truths about sex, love and marriage.

All's Well at STF.  Photo by Mark Douet _80A3598
The way in which determined Helena (Eleanor Yates) single-mindedly corners Bertram (Craig Fuller) into marriage, and finally love, raises disturbing questions. Bertram’s disgust at Helena’s low social status and his unwillingness to consummate their marriage is overcome by a sneaky bed trick and Helena’s faked death. Courtship led alternately by devotion, duty, deception and finally death, comes to a head in a play that cuts close to the bone.

All's Well at STF.  Photo by Mark Douet _80A3569
Helena’s anomalous position at the French court as the daughter of a celebrated doctor allows her to cure the French King (Christopher Bianchi) of an anal fistula, securing in exchange Bertram’s reluctant hand. The embarrassing bodily illness lurking behind the sacrament of marriage hints at the raw sexual nature of desire that beats at the heart of all polite courtship, even pulsating behind Helena’s virginal devotion.

All's Well at STF.  Photo by Mark Douet _80A3296
This SATF production was partially rewritten by Dominic Power to “add an interesting layer or two to the central relationship” (according to Artistic Director Andrew Hilton) and very much zooms in on Bertram and Helena. The production is set in mid-19th century Europe during the troubled years of the Franco-Austrian War and Italian unification.

All's Well at STF.  Photo by Mark Douet _31B8735
The army camp’s masculine camaraderie and banter adds an interesting counterbalance to the French court, obsessed with courtship and curing the King.
The raucous atmosphere of the army camp is also reflected in Bertram’s indiscriminate male sexuality as the soldier-seducer of virgins. He gets his comeuppance in the aforementioned bed trick scene, not realising that beautiful local virgin Diana (Isabella Marshall) has been replaced by Helena.

All's Well at STF.  Photo by Mark Douet _31B8418
The whole cast effuses energy and enthusiasm, clearly enjoying the richness of the text. With her expressive face and impeccable comic timing, Julia Hills gives a brilliant performance as Bertram’s mother, the Countess of Rousillon. Her tenderness towards Helena – devastated by Bertram’s desertion – is truly moving.

All's Well at STF.  Photo by Mark Douet _31B7266
Another tour de force is Paul Currier as the boorish and pontificating soldier Parolles, whose emasculating humiliation at the hands of his fellow soldiers is both comic and disturbing. Eleanor Yates, meanwhile, is perfectly cast as Helena, combining steely determination with loving devotion.

With the Indian Shakespeares On Screen festival taking place in London from 27-30 April, we asked the organisers to choose their all-time favourite Indian Shakespeare movie adapatations…

HAIDER (2014)
Vishal Bhardwaj’s adaptation of Hamlet
“In a time of rising religious and patriotic Hindu fundamentalism in India, how did Haider ever get permission to be made, and how did it pass the notorious eye of the Indian censor? Those are the questions I can’t wait to ask the director, Vishal Bhardwaj, and Basharat Peer, the film’s co-writer when I interview them in April.

“Set in Kashmir at the height of the conflict of the 1990s, Haider is deeply critical of British colonialism and the pernicious license it allows Indian structures of power. The once colonized have become the masters here, as the film’s tight focus on a handful of Kashmiri Muslim lives shows. The tragedy of good men disappearing, brothers being set against one another, overt violence and insidious paranoia are set against the austere beauty of war-torn Srinagar.

“Silencing is a key theme: snow falls like confetti on lovers, weeps over disappeared bodies, hides terror and smothers grief. Language is twisted as the people struggle to voice the trauma of subjugation. Bhardwaj draws on the poetry of Gulzar and the skeleton of Hamlet to create a film that is complex, thrilling, wry, poignant and political all at once. For me, Haider sets a gold standard for the cinematic language of Indian Shakespeares on screen.”

Chosen by Dr Preti Taneja, University of Warwick and Queen Mary, University of London 

Mirrorville, Aparna Sen’s re-make of Romeo and JulietIMG_3719
“Romantic musicals about doomed lovers are the staple of Indian cinema and there is no dearth of appropriations of Romeo and Juliet on the Indian stage or screen. Sen’s plotting of Romeo and Juliet on the Hindu-Muslim divide to speak about contemporary intolerance is not distinctive either.

“What sets this adaptation of Romeo and Juliet on the Indian Screen apart, and makes it one of my favourite Shakespeare appropriations, is its innovative combination of theatrical and cinematic styles.

“As Sen states, ‘The story is known everywhere, the art is in the telling.’ There are brilliant instances of realist scenes shot against painted backdrops which not only positions Arshinagar as a mirrorville which reflects a reality not limited to a particular geographical place but also a remarkable experiment with form in commercial cinema.

“Furthermore, the characters speak a contemporary combination of English, Bengali, Hindi and Urdu that is familiar to someone like me who grew up in the historical and culturally diverse city of Kolkata, and all of it is in rhymed verse! I am very excited to be speaking about this fascinating Shakespeare film at our conference.”

Chosen by Ms Koel Chatterjee, Royal Holloway, University of London

The Play of God, Jayaraj Rajasekharan Nair’s adaptation of OthelloFullSizeRender
“In Kaliyattam, the national award winning Othello remake, the low caste hero Kannan Perumalayan (Suresh Gopi) is a traditional Keralan theyyam trance dancer. Perumalayan’s fundamental psychological insecurity at his outsider status is here rooted in a schizophrenic social schism: he is reviled by day yet worshipped by night, possessed by temple gods during his ritual kaliyattam fire dances.

“An inter-caste scandal explodes when Perumalayan elopes with the village head’s daughter, Brahmin beauty Thamara/Desdemona (Manju Warrier). Perumalayan loses his grip on reality as he becomes increasingly unable to separate his two lives, and jealous junior temple artist Paniyan/Iago (Lal) manages to convince him that the chaste Thamara is unfaithful.

“Half-costumed, Perumalayan smothers Thamara in bed. After discovering his mistake, he crushes Paniyan’s legs, crippling yet sparing him. In his final temple performance, Perumalayan bequeaths his role to Kanthan/Cassio (Biju Menon) before throwing himself into the sacrificial fire costume and all, consumed by his own irredeemably split conscience.”

Chosen by Ms Thea Buckley, Shakespeare Institute, University of Birmingham

10ml LOVE (2012)
Sharat Katariya’s take on A Midsummer Night’s DreamFullSizeRender
“Endorsing the emergent Indian Indie cinema movement, Thierry Frémaux, artistic director of Cannes Film Festival, declared that ‘I firmly believe that this new generation can bring a fresh air not only to Indian Cinema but also to World Cinema.’ Therefore, I am delighted that we are screening Katariya’s10ml Loveat our conference.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is an attractive play to set in India as it references the ‘Indian boy’ and the ‘spicèd Indian air’. Yet, rather than the exotic India that Shakespeare paints, Katariya sets the movie in cosmopolitan Mumbai. Whereas Shakespeare’s play begins with the aristocrats, 10ml Love opens with the mechanicals of Shakespeare’s play.In a hilarious sequence, we are shown that they are rehearsing for Ramlila. The Ramlila, is an indigenous theatrical form but the substitution of Ramlila for the mechanicals’ play is not mere indigenization.

“During the time of the British colonial rule in India, the emulation of Western theatre led to a decline of indigenous theatre forms such as the Ramlila. Thus, using a Shakespeare adaptation to emphasise the decline of Ramlila troupes is a politically canny move. The result is that India is not viewed through Shakespeare’s gaze rather Shakespeare is viewed through an Indian gaze. This is why, for me, 10ml Love is an underrated gem.”

Chosen by Dr Varsha Panjwani, Boston University in London and University of York

Shakepeare and Indian-Final Poster
‘Indian Shakespeares on Screen’ features an international conference including talks, screenings, workshops, and an art display at Asia House in central London (27-29 April 2016), followed by a weekend film festival at London’s BFI Southbank (29-30 April 2016) where the screening of the Indian Shakespeare trilogy Maqbool (Macbeth), Omkara (Othello), and Haider (Hamlet) will be accompanied by public interviews with Vishal Bhardwaj, the trilogy’s director, and the scriptwriters of the films.

Find out more at the Indian Shakespeares on Screen website.

This month, at London’s Royal Festival Hall, the BBC Concert Orchestra performed some of the finest music ever to grace the films of Shakespeare’s works

[Images: BBC Concert Orchestra]

Shakespeare’s work has inspired a variety of classical composers and has fascinated film makers from Olivier to Branagh. At the start of the concert conductor Keith Lockhart tells us that Shakespeare’s language is “in itself music” and speaks of his admiration for the composers featured this evening.

We are treated to a couple of extracts from scenes of Shakespeare’s plays recited by four actors, including the brilliant Sam West. It’s great to hear how differently composers chose to highlight certain points in a speech. Michael Nyman wonderfully conjures up the sounds of magic for Prospero in his score to the 1991 film Prospero’s Books.

Patrick Doyle, in his 1993 Much Ado About Nothing, places a romantic melody beneath Benedick’s speech, with stabbing dissonant strings on the words Here comes Beatrice”. The strings brilliantly reflect the comedy of the scene and the passionate tension between the two soon-to-be lovers.

The most revealing moment of the evening is William Walton’s 1948 composition for Hamlet. The opening chords immediately recall the sound of a classic ’40s film. Walton’s soft, warming brass generates a slightly uneasy feeling, suggesting a powerful yet volatile atmosphere where things are not quite at peace.

We are played a lot of Walton’s score and it’s at its most powerful when underscoring Hamlet’s “To be, or not to be” speech, recited here by West. Walton beautifully underpins the fraught tension going on in Hamlet’s soliloquy. The orchestra attack certain moments with powerful and sharp crescendos echoing Hamlet’s struggle.

Lockhart conducts the BBC Concert Orchestra with aplomb. The orchestra’s rendition of Nino Rota’s 1968 score for Romeo and Juliet is particularly poignant, and the evening has a moving finale with the suite from Stephen Warbeck’s 1998 score to Shakespeare in Love.

Go here for the official BBC Concert Orchestra website.

10,000 life-like Shakespeare masks to be given away to Bard fans at Stratford-upon-Avon birthday celebrations!

Shakespeare Mask (2)
[Shakespeare Mask and painting by artist Geoffrey Tristram]

A commemorative Shakespeare Mask will be issued as a souvenir for 10,000 visitors to Stratford-upon-Avon on Shakespeare’s birthday. The gift comes courtesy of parade organisers Shakespeare’s Celebrations, who are preparing the 2016 festivities to mark 400 years since Shakespeare’s death.

During the traditional Quill and Flag Unfurling ceremonies at the heart of this year’s Birthday Parade, the Master of Ceremonies will invite the crowds to put on their masks and give ‘Three Cheers for Shakespeare!’
On the reverse of the mask, there’s a quick and easy guide to the Birthday Parade and other events on the day. Students from local schools will be distributing the 10,000 Shakespeare Masks from around 9:30 on the morning of 23 April in the town centre.

3 parade
In 2015, Stratford-on-Avon District Council and Stratford-upon-Avon Town Council jointly commissioned the development of a portrait of the Bard which could be used to create a novel celebrity face mask. The image had to be a recognisable likeness of William Shakespeare, in a high definition, photographic quality for production as a cardboard face mask.

Mike Gittus, Chairman of Stratford District Council said: “This was always going to be a challenge with Shakespeare’s death having been early in the 17th century, long before any form of camera. We concluded that just as important as the accuracy of the image of the mask, it had to be publicly recognisable as that of the famous Bard of Avon. Most importantly the chosen image had to be capable of being converted into a full frontal face mask.

“We knew that when ‘the world’ ponders on Shakespeare, it sees in its mind’s eye the famous Droeshout engraving of him. This is the picture inside the First Folio of his collected works printed in 1623 and the accuracy of this engraving was endorsed by his contemporary Ben Jonson. The choice was suddenly made simple. Armed with world famous picture, the search was on for an artist to produce a suitable version for conversion into a mask.”

The call was successfully answered by local artist Geoffrey Tristram. Based in Stourbridge, West Midlands and with a lifetime’s experience as a painter and illustrator, Geoff set about discovering what Shakespeare really looked like.

He takes up the tale: “I’m a meticulous kind of fellow and looked at many images of the Bard, taking countless measurements of facial features, cross referencing and overlaying them. I also studied colouring and texture of skin. Gradually, a shape common to several portraits emerged which fitted remarkably closely to the famous Droeshout engraving. But it views the subject at an angle, so my research helped me create a new, head-on view of the face. A typical Elizabethan ruff completed the picture and my portrait became a very convincing Bard!”

Shakespeare scan low res
Geoff was so encouraged by the results of the project that he proposed a second portrait, an oil on canvas which he’s also now completed.

Both portraits will be on private display in the Town Hall over the Birthday Weekend, 20-24 April, transferring for public display to the reception area of Stratford-on-Avon District Council in Elizabeth House for the following week to coincide with the Stratford Literary Festival.

Go here for the official Shakespeare’s Celebrations website.

This month, long-running human rights magazine Index on Censorship celebrates the Bard’s potent legacy with a special – and eye-opening – Shakespeare-themed issue


[Image by Ben Jennings]

Nearly 400 years after his death Shakespeare’s plays continue to tackle controversial themes like aged rulers going mad, regicide and teenage sex.

But luckily his establishment reputation and historic context often means countries which restrict debate may allow Shakespeare’s words to be staged.

It’s as if by placing something in a time past the authorities forget that there can be modern resonances. And that can be a lucky thing for those in countries such as Zimbabwe, Lebanon and India, among others, where theatre’s big themes can often be trimmed down to the not offensive.

But as Index on Censorship magazine discovered in its global journey around theatre censorship and Shakespeare in its upcoming issue, even Shakespeare doesn’t always escape from the red pencil or the steely gaze of the authorities.

Turkey editor Kaya Genç talks to leading theatrical producers about a controversial performance of Midsummer Night’s Dream, which ended with many of those involved imprisoned. This production was felt to have highlighted the relationship between the elite and the rest (the rude mechanicals) and how status was used for power. The play did not squeeze by. It was noticed.

Theatre, in whatever form it takes, tells us something about society. Sometimes the stories are uncomfortable, but they need to be explored.
The means to telling those stories, and challenging societal realities, may have to be worked around obstacles within that the society where the public and performers are currently in place.

Jan Fox’s long-form essay looks at the love/hate relationship the USA has, and has had, with Shakespeare. The Puritan founders felt all theatre was beyond the pale, and looked frowningly on its ribaldry. So this is a nation with a core of censorship at odds with its commitment to its First Amendment freedom of expression. LA-based Fox covers why Shakespeare still upsets parents because of its drama around everything from teenage suicide to under-age sex. “Shakespeare is telling us about our secret self and that’s what people are aware of,” Gail Kern Paster, editor of the US-based journal Shakespeare Quarterly tells Fox.

While plays by established writers can smuggle through dissent and protest in countries with strict reins of performance exist, as nations move towards greater democracy then the public must expect and demand far more provocative, outrageous and openly challenging material from its theatre as well as welcoming the established gems. We should all look forward to the signs of those times.

Rachael Jolley is the editor of Index on Censorship magazine. The latest issue is out next week. Go here for more information and to order your copy.