Review: The Bard, Zimbabwe-style

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THERE is far too much on in Canberra’s theatre scene this week, so if you’re a serious lover of fine acting you’ll probably need to worm your way out of other commitments and head for The Street Theatre. 

L. Tonderai Munyebvu, R. Denton Chikura
L. Tonderai Munyebvu, R. Denton Chikura
There until Saturday, you can catch the extraordinary talents of London-based Zimbabwean actors Denton Chikura and Tonderai Munyebvu.
Last night their season opened with “Two Gentlemen of Verona” (Vakomana Vaviri Ve Zimbabwe), a heady mix of Shakespeare, song, Shona language vernacular comedy and audience interaction.

It takes only about ten minutes to get the idea. The two men play all the characters, including Crab, the most famous stage dog of all time, enlisting individual audience members and inanimate objects when they run out of people to play all the parts.

A long silk glove stands for the lovely lady Silvia. (The song “Who is Silvia? What is she?” comes from this play). In one amazing moment one of the actors threatens to rape the glove. My companion’s shoes are seized upon to become a mother and father. A beret signifies a lord. This is no sacred Shakespeare.

If Chikura or Munyebvu feel like breaking from the dialogue to apologise for Shakespeare’s high-flown language, they do, with free-flowing asides and comments even as they continue with the play. As well as being master comedians, these two actors speak their lines as beautifully as any you’ll see in this country, a refreshing reminder of why we love the Bard.
Despite the irreverence, or maybe because if it, this rarely-performed early play has been given a thoroughly Shakespearean treatment which allows the characters to become three-dimensional.

In the hands of Munyebvu, the changeable, “protean” character Proteus is made thoroughly hateful to us, while his counterpart Valentine is played with sympathy and conviction by Chikura.

In no way do Chikura and Munyebvu murder “Two Gentlemen,” but the second play in their repertoire this week will be “Kupenga Kwa Hamlet,” a pre-colonial Zimbabwe treatment of Shakespeare’s most celebrated play. You can only guess at how rotten the state of Denmark will become in their joint hands.

 

 

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Helen Musa
“CityNews” arts editor

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