Wine, Swahili and Ponchos
It’s not every day that you see about twenty half naked men with painted green derrieres perform the Haka, or talk to the actor playing Pericles in The National Theatre of Greece’s production. I discovered that what he really wants to do in London is watch a football match. Nor is it every day you chat about with writer and actor Joshua from Kenya about what makes theatre theatre over, or cry as Venus mourns Adonis even though you have absolutely no idea what she is saying.
This is a tiny snapshot of my experience so far as a young director at The Globe to Globe Festival, and it’s only been five days! Every time I go to see another show (and I’ve been to see them all) I have some kind of an expectation. It is always flouted or exceeded and I’m always amazed and inspired by how each of these companies portrays Shakespeare in totally different ways.
As an example, take yesterday’s matinee of The Merry Wives of Windsor by Bitter Pill and Theatre Company Kenya. I had a drink with the cast on Tuesday evening. They were a hilarious group of people, telling tales of rehearsals and how director Daniel promised them that red heads with beards were absolutely the most attractive men in England. Five of them have never left Kenya and here they are at Shakespeare’s Globe performing Merry Wives (hilariously) in the pouring rain and loving every minute.
They translation is especially interesting because each character speaks slightly different Swahili: depending on education, area, upbringing etc. Each character has a different ability and grasp of the language. The Kenyan culture quite literally sang from the stage, starting with the national anthem opener to the traditional dance finish. Apparently The Globe and Kenya share this tradition; Kenyan theatre also traditionally finishes with a celebratory dance!
Comedy in the Casting
The Kenyans brought heaps of colour and humour onto the Globe stage. Having met the actors the day before, this did not come as a surprise. They are as vibrant and hilarious offstage as in performance. For many of the actors, it was their first time even outside of Kenya. This was the 3rd play in the festival, and the first comedy, although we have had plenty moments of comedy from the get-go!
With a company of just 8 actors, presenting 21 characters, they have their work cut out for them when it comes to costume changes. One actor, Neville Sanganyi, plays 3 characters, Dr Ciaus, Slender and Fenton, who are all suitors of the young Anne Page. What happens, then, when we get to a scene in which all three characters are present and engaged in dialogue with Anne’s father? The result is a splendidly simple coup de theatre, with actors and audience alike accepting the problem, and gleefully watching Neville bandy between jacket and hat to fulfil his multiple roles.
Also attending the matinee were the cast from the 2010 Globe production of Merry Wives (their photo still features on the doors at the entrance to the Globe). All four wives had a great giggle together after the performance – it was easy to tell why they’d each been cast in these fun-filled, conniving roles! The 2 productions were vastly different (even setting the language aside), especially in terms of costumes and stage design. While Serena Evans and Sarah Woodward (Globe cast) sweltered in heavy period costumes, Chichi Seii and Lydiah Gitachu (Kenyan cast) brave the British elements in light and bright dresses.
The character of Falstaff stays true to his theatrical popularity. While previous portrayals of the funny fat man have us squirming in digust at his belching, drinking, lecherous ways, Mrisho Mpoto’s Falstaff is rather adorable. The florescence of his costume seems dim compared to his winning smile. I dare say this approach might give him a better chance at finding some luck in love!
- Jane Moriarty
Please get up – for the National Anthem of Kenya
It was the 26th of April at 7.30 when the whole Globe audience was asked to get up from their seats to listen to a gorgeous woman in a beautiful dress, singing the national anthem of Kenya. What was about to start was an unbelievably funny version of The Merry Wives of Windsor in Swahili performed by Bitter Pill and The Theatre Company Kenya.
The company consists of eight actors. Thos of you who know the play may have realized that there are twenty-one characters in the play. Neville Sanganyi for example plays three different characters. One actor was gay and he told me for his research he spent a lot of time with women, to adapt their facial expression. So far so good. To make it a bit more interesting for him and for the audience, all three characters were in one scene. What came next was an amazing effort. I talked with him after the show about this situation and he admitted it was really difficult to change so fast and stage the characters at the same time. Everything had to change, the facial expression, the gesture, the way he was walking, costumes – everything. I have to say he was awesome and so was the rest of the play. I’ve never laughed so much during a play in which I did not understand a word.