BY BILLY SUTER
FOR a taste of Shakespeare with a novel South African twist, treat yourself to a visit to Durban’s Courtyard Theatre on the Berea campus of the Durban University of Technology (DUT) at 7.30pm tonight or tomorrow (March 16 and 17).
The university is presenting a colourful student production of The Taming of the Shrew which, imaginatively directed and designed by campus head of drama and production studies, Debbie Lutge, will soon be staged abroad.
After its campus dates, the production, will be presented at the annual Folkwang International Shakespeare Festival in Germany. Initiated in 2001, with the Folkwang University of the Arts as a major partner, this festival features various student productions, from all over the world, of one of the Bard’s works.
The Taming of the Shrew is the play to be performed from April 11 to 21 by student actors from Durban (South Africa), Helsinki (Finland), Ramallah (Palestine) and Folkwang.
The festival will feature four national productions and one international production of The Taming of the Shrew, with the Durban production scheduled for staging at 7.30pm on April 16.
“Our university is committed to the ideals of international openness and diversity, as well as artistic excellence and interdisciplinary study. For this reason, we are particularly proud that intercultural exchange can be experienced already during the studies in both national and international projects,” says Andreas Jacob, president of the Folkwang University of the Arts.
“Our journey to Folkwang Shakespeare Festival in 2016 signalled the beginning of a deep and poignantly touching transition for our Department of Drama and Production Studies,:” says Durban’s Lutge.
“This second sojourn has been equally transformative. The preparation for the international Folkwang Shakespeare Festival always has as primary considerations: funding for air fares and the costs of transporting the set; the production is required to travel light; the production must speak of who we are as a nation.
“Each visit we become more conscious of the large debt our journey owes to our German partners, who facilitate mounting the play, cover accommodation plus airport transfers, with Ms Susanne Skipiol each year going above and beyond to assist us in making our dreams a reality,” adds Lutge.
“This year she managed to secure our much-needed airfares through Deutsche Akademischer Austauschdienster, which has contributed significantly to our flights.
“Our trip was facilitated by funding from DAAD, which additionally funded insurance, as well as the study seminar Prof Hanns Dietrich Schmidt will give in Germany with funds from Federal Foreign Office resources.”
Discussing her production, Lutge says: “We decided in this production, which is centred on gender equality, to invoke our ancestors to travel with us on this prestigious journey, so we commence with a ritual invocation, and we move in a consequential timeline through the play.
“All the actors in blankets, as the play opens, represent male and female initiates who are coming of age. Focused on an introduction to their first Shakespearean presentation, the actors are metaphorically speaking Shakespearean virgins.
“As actors they shed their blood virginally during the circumcision. The excess of individual idiosyncrasy is metaphorically separated from the act of what Mamet terms being ‘in the moment.
“Their isolation sets its own timeline as we travel through time from a ritual beginning, to a cultural being, to an individual coming to terms with shifts in socio-cultural gender politics, to a triumphant unity where past anguishes are forgiven, the marriage consolidated and love firmly entrenched and unchallenged. A possible analogy for a rainbow nation.
“The costumes have fused simultaneously modern, yet regally traditional, outfits, through the heavy richness of the black and white Xhosa-styled regalia.
“In décor we included colourful Ndebele huts, elephant tusks, rails and fences, newspaper, cardboard and air-conditioning vents, plus sticks and light paper parasols as protection against the sun.”
Props are wire outlines, filled with the hollowness of empty plates, in a land where the signs of plenty are reserved for the super-rich, explains Lutge.
“As a director I have embraced this journey and the joy of sharing in this cultural discovery. The challenge, of course, in this play remains the embedded gender dynamics and overcoming an endorsement of entrenched traditional values that may be perceived to be anti-gender equality.
“We hope you receive this in the manner Shakespeare intended – as a raucous comedy, heightened by our uniquely African interpretation.”