Shakespeare brought to you in IsiXhosa, Afrikaans, Swahili, Juba Arabic, Shona and Yoruba

3 Apr

Five productions from South Africa, Kenya, South Sudan, Zimbabwe and Nigeria come to the UK to perform in the prestigious “Globe to Globe” festival, taking place at the Shakespeare’s Globe in London, to each present one of Shakespeare’s plays in IsiZulu, IsiXhosa, SeSotho, Setswana, Afrikaans, Swahili, Juba Arabic, Shona and Yoruba respectively.

These ambitious productions are part of an unprecedented programme of multi-lingual Shakespeare productions. 37 international companies will present every one of Shakespeare’s plays in a different language over six weeks: Afrikaans,  Albanian, Arabic, Armenian, Bangla, Belarusian, British Sign Language, Cantonese, Dari, French, Georgian, German, Greek, Gujarati,  Hebrew, Hindi,IsiZulu, IsiXhosa, Italian, Japanese, Korean,  Lithuanian, Macedonian, Mandarin, Maori, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Shona, Serbian,  SeSotho, Setswana , Spanish (Argentine, Castilian and Mexican), Swahili, Turkish, Urdu,  Yoruba.

We speak to two of the directors; Wole Oguntokun of Renegade Theatre presenting “The Winter’s Tale” in Yoruba and Arne Pohlmeier of Two Gents Productions presenting “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” in Shona – to find out about their experience of being part of this audacious, exciting and unique theatre project.

How have you found the process of translating Shakespeare into Yoruba and Shona, respectively?

Arne Pohlmeier: We have previously worked with Shakespeare in the English original. Doing Two Gentlemen of Verona in Shona is consequently a real journey of discovery. On the one hand the translation makes sense of the play in new ways so that we end up seeing the characters and what they are saying in a new light. On the other hand, the Shona used in the translation is as far removed from the Shona that is spoken on the street as Shakespeare’s English is from the colloquial English we speak today. This has made us work extra hard on learning, understanding and presenting the language in a way that is muscular, fully embodied and clear to the audience.

Wole Oguntokun: It has been an experience unlike any other. In the casting process, we had to look for people who could speak both languages well (English and Yoruba). The rehearsals have broadened the minds of both the cast and crew members. It has been a bit like exercising muscles one never knew one had, a sometimes painful but mostly rewarding process. Shakespeare in English would not have been a mean task and in Yoruba, it’s sometimes like wading through thick undergrowth with a machete you have to sharpen from time to time.

What do you hope the audiences will take from the experience of watching a Shakespeare play in a language they don’t understand?

Arne Pohlmeier: Seeing a play in a language you don’t understand is exhilarating. It really allows you to watch what the actors are doing and to read every aspect of their performance – you cannot simply rely on what they are saying you have to let yourself be guided by how they are saying it. This is particularly exciting with Shakespeare because his plays are structured so intelligently and the intentions of what the characters are doing to each other in every moment is so powerful, that it communicates even before it is understood.

Wole Oguntokun: The richness of other cultures and traditions. Even though there will be some who won’t understand Yoruba, I hope our craftsmanship will still be able to pass the message, through actions, music and dance and that hidden rhythm that exists in every stage presentation.

What has been one of the biggest challenges in putting this play together?

Wole Oguntokun: One of our biggest challenges has been the translating process. In our initial readings, we had to translate Shakespeare’s English into contemporary English and then had to do the same to the Yoruba Translation. The original translation by Tade Ipadeola, a well-spoken man in his seventies was into very formal Yoruba and even though we have retained quite a bit of the formality of language, we, firstly, had to make the text, accessible to some of the younger members of the cast who spoke a more contemporary version of the Yoruba translation.

Arne Pohlmeier: Honouring the beauty and dexterity of the new Shona translation by Noel Marerwa.

What would be your single message of advice for someone starting a theatre production company in Africa?

Wole Oguntokun: Have faith; close your eyes and step off the cliff believing you won’t hit the ground.  That’s right. I said, “Have faith.”

You can catch these plays and others at the “Globe to Globe” festival taking place from 21st April – 9th June 2012.
****AMAZING Out of Africa SPECIAL OFFER****

Globe Theatre are offering their best seats in the house for £10, to the productions of “Venus and Adonis” in IsiZulu, “The Merry Wives of Windsor” in Swahili, “Cymbeline” in Juba Arabic, “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” in Shona and “The Winter’s Tale” in Yoruba – reduced from £35; a saving of £25.

To claim this discount, quote ‘Out of Africa arts £10 offer’ when booking by phone on 020 7401 9919 or ‘PCD10BEST’ when booking online at


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