Women take centre stage in the Market Theatre’s Shakespeare season

Stories are never on pause, says artistic director of the Market Theatre, James Ngcobo, as he reveals its latest theatrical celebration, Chilling with the Bard: A Shakespeare Season. And for those of us trying to keep track of Ngcobo’s creative juices, it’s been a sweet ride as he tries to navigate the Covid-19 curveball that has almost brought the world to a standstill.

I knew the creatives would find different ways to market their stories even when their winning ticket — live theatre — was cancelled, and will probably be prohibited for the rest of the year. From the start of the first lockdown, Ngcobo knew he had to find ways to keep theatre going; to embrace, rather than defy, lockdown. 

“I commissioned 10 new works, all of which are available on our social-media platforms, and some of which will be reworked next year to stage live,” he says.

Then he turned to a handful of young actors to deliver monologues reflecting on their world and the life we are inhabiting now. 

“Theatre will rise again,” Ngcobo says; in the meantime, it has given him the opportunity to showcase some performers who are Market regulars, as well as others he has always hoped to put on stage. “Covid hasn’t stifled our passion, just moved it into another space.”

He also connected with dancers like Vincent Mantsoe in Paris; writers like Napo Masheane were given a scenario and asked to write something; others were asked to tell their own stories; and an international jazz hook-up was also made. Ngcobo had to find ways to woo audiences to watch and is thrilled by the response — with audience numbers rising constantly as all the work can be easily accessed for free.

Many of these plays will also be staged at the Market when live performances are given the go-ahead. “I envision two weekends of short plays; for example, where audiences move around from one 20-minute play to another,” he says. For Ngcobo, it is important to stage new work and not just look at what they had available.

This latest season is based on speeches from some of Shakespeare’s iconic plays, mostly written for male characters. They have been carefully picked and partnered with the perfect actresses, according to Ngcobo.

The Shakespeare Season was partly conceived with the aim of  slowly easing audiences back into the theatre

These past few months and those ahead have been all about finding ways to work: not only for audiences, but also for actors. Reversing the roles in this Shakespeare season, Ngcobo hoped to excite both parties with roles that were written more than 400 years ago, but are still relevant today.

In an Oprah Masterclass podcast with Maya Angelou, relevance is underlined in the following musings: “I read Shakespeare,” Angelou says, speaking of herself at a very young age, about 12 years old. “I memorised 50 sonnets or something. But I read one sonnet that made me think, Shakespeare must be a black girl from the South who may have been molested. How could he know?”

And then she recites: “In disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes/ I all alone beweep my outcast state/ And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries/ And look upon myself and curse my fate.

“Shakespeare knew what it was to be raped and scorned, so, of course, I thought he was a black girl, barefoot in the South. It spoke to me,” she says. And who can argue that.

“I think it’s important that we’re not locked in by the myopia of gender and race,” Ngcobo says, an attitude that world theatre has embraced as audiences become more adventurous in their viewing choices.

“It is really a marvel that almost 400 years after he wrote this great literature, we are still intrigued and engulfed in this magnificent work of brilliance. Shakespeare poured his heart and imagination into these wondrous stories that have been acclaimed, enjoyed and staged over the years,” Ngcobo says.

Running through his options, he talks about his choices for the season: 11 of Mzansi’s finest actresses take on performing one-hander plays. “I’m hoping that this amazing combination of talent will breathe new life to these ancient, yet living texts,” Ngcobo says.

For a longer version of this article, visit debeernecessities.com.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Diane de Beer
Diane de Beer is a freelance Journalist & Blogger

Related stories

Six injections a year could stop new HIV infections

New research from seven countries in Africa signals the future of HIV prevention — but what can it learn from its past?

Why anti-corruption campaigns are bad for democracy

Such campaigns can draw attention to the widespread presence of the very behaviour they are trying to stamp out — and subconsciously encourage people to view it as appropriate

Why we must fight to secure places for more women and young people in politics

Too often, governments talk the talk on gender equality, but fail to walk the walk

Black bosses, please lead us well

We need to do better to create compatible workplaces for black employees

Times of unprecedented crisis present unique opportunities for unprecedented action

The world has a chance to improve the lives of women, especially those living in Africa

Pandemic responses must ensure human rights are protected

Blanket measures such as lockdowns contribute to the needs and realities of people at the margins of society being overlooked

Subscribers only

Covid-19 surges in the Eastern Cape

With people queuing for services, no water, lax enforcement of mask rules and plenty of partying, the virus is flourishing once again, and a quarter of the growth is in the Eastern Cape

Ace prepares ANC branches for battle

ANC secretary general Ace Magashule is ignoring party policy on corruption-charged officials and taking his battle to branch level, where his ‘slate capture’ strategy is expected to leave Ramaphosa on the ropes

More top stories

Why no vaccine at all is better than a botched...

As Covid vaccines near the manufacturing stage, a look at two polio vaccines provides valuable historical insights

Under cover of Covid, Uganda targets LGBTQ+ shelter

Pandemic rules were used to justify a violent raid on a homeless shelter in Uganda, but a group of victims is pursuing a criminal case against the perpetrators

JJ Rawlings left an indelible mark on Ghana’s history

The air force pilot and former president used extreme measures, including a coup, enforced ‘discipline’ through executions, ‘disappearances’ and floggings, but reintroduced democracy

Sudan’s government gambles over fuel-subsidy cuts — and people pay...

Economists question the manner in which the transitional government partially cut fuel subsidies

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…