Pros: The rapturous music performed live on the stage with a diverse range of instruments.
Cons: The surtitles were too close to the front rows and often changed too quickly.
‘This island’s mine from Sycorax my mother, which thou take’st from me.’ This sentence, delivered by the indigenous slave Caliban (Stanley Malizani Mambo) to his master Prospero (Christopher Brand) perfectly sums up Bilimankhwe International Theatre‘s abridged production of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest. With a visionary but highly appropriate parallel between Prospero’s settlement in the island and the history of the British Empire, the company offers a striking metaphor of colonialism and its arbitrary enterprise.
After a long period of research conducted in Malawi, director (and founder of Bilimankhwe) Kate Stafford has created a fine blend of performative elements, unveiling an unexpected affinity between Shakespeare’s late masterpiece and traditional dances and music of southeast Africa.
Confidently sailing through time and space, Shyne Phiri’s choreography can be seen at its best in the role of Ariel, for which Joshua Bhima and Robert Magasa double up, offering a combination of physical theatre and contemporary and ethnic dance. Perching on a rock or climbing on a tree, their human features are accompanied by animalistic manners, and watching their bodies in action is a big part of the entertainment.
The excellent live musical contribution from Ben Mankhamba, Frederick Rich and Malizani Mambo becomes even more evocative under Charlie Morgan Jones’ extraordinary lighting, which recreates the beauty of the African skies, with their multifaceted sunsets and moonlit nights. A variety of musical instruments and their unfamiliar melodies fill the auditorium with magic, especially when the cast joins voices in a polyphonic chant.
To emphasise the multicultural nature of this work, some of the original lines have been translated into Chichewa, the most widely spoken indigenous language in Malawi. Regrettably, their delivery is flawed; the screen on which the surtitles are displayed is too close to the front rows and the pacing is uneven – to the point that it’s sometimes difficult to read the whole sentence.
Consisting of just a few trees and a pile of boulders, Hazel Albarn’s simple set was also devised during a trip to Malawi. This is a suitable backdrop for a play in which the essence prevails over the appearance, and the written text is a canvas on which Bilimankhwe gently paints an enchanting and colourful world. In this production, Malawian performers share the stage with British actors of a variety of ethnic backgrounds, shaping the epitome of intercultural theatre, where geographically distant civilisations effortlessly find a common aim, achieving groundbreaking artistic coexistence.
Author: William Shakespeare
Director: Kate Stafford
Choreographer: Shyne Phiri
Composers: Ben Mankhamba, Frederick Rich
Producer: Bilimankhwe International Theatre
Booking Information: This show has now completed its London run to embark on a national tour.