Zim actors delight audiences with Shona Hamlet

hamletLONDON - Two Gents inspired production of Hamlet might horrify Shakespeare purists but by marrying the bard's timeless tale with traditional Shona culture, the small company makes this 400-year-old play innovative, hugely entertaining and relevant. (Pictured: Tonderai Munyevu and Denton Chikura in Kupenga kwa Hamlet)

Dressed in orange overalls and armed with nothing more than a straw mat and a hand-held marimba, Tonderai Munyevu and Denton Chikura perform a pirate version of Hamlet, a shortened “bad” quarto published in 1603 which entertains from the minute they walk on stage.

The genius of Arne Pohlmeier’s production is the simplicity with which each actor takes on a new character with nothing more than a hand gesture or change of stance.

Hamlet, torn between madness, inaction and revenge, is constantly wiping his brow and Queen Gertrude is the picture of a tragic beaten wife, with her hand firmly clasped to her cheek. Ophelia has a strut worthy of the catwalk and an attitude not often associated with this tragic heroine, while King Claudius strides around with his hands aloft, commanding and proud. Polonius, or Corambis as he is known in this version is a gloriously bombastic, bowed old man.

“People felt that with Hamlet, we had tapped into something very Zimbabwean. We thought about how we could embed this in Shona culture,” said Pohlmeier. The themes of death and haunting spirits as well as the power the dead have over the living resonated with both actors who began working on the play when they were in Harare for HIFA earlier this year.

The production stays true to Shakespeare’s poetic words, but the play is really brought to life with with Chikura and Munyevu’s mime, Shona asides and traditional song.

The play ends in a chaotic death scene, brought to life by two manic grave diggers giving the performance a modern and hilarious twist.

The mark of an accomplished actor is an ability to wring emotion from an audience. Chikura and Munyevu may have had the audience in hysterics with their grave-diggers sequence, but their timed sense of melodrama played out in the intense relationships between the characters, and their masterful management of Shakespeare’s poetic soliloquies had the audience breathless with anticipation. – Kupenga Kwa Hamlet is on at the Oval House Theatre until 4 December. Tickets are 12. For more information call 0207 582 7680.

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