UKZN to host Decolonising Shakespeare Theatre Festival


Mishka Gounden and Trent Moffet in The Space Between, a stage two-hander written by Janet van Eeden, directed by Clinton Marius which has two performances at UKZN’s Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre, on 26 and 27 September, both starting at 6.30pm.

The University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Drama and Performance Studies is hosting the SHAKESPEAREmustFALL? Theatre Festival from September 20 to Otcober 2 at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre on the Howard College campus in Durban.

The festival will include a colloquium featuring keynote addresses by theatre and performance art stalwarts, Welcome Msomi and Chris Thurman, from September 30 to October 1 at Studio 5 on the Howard College campus.

This event is part of the broader “Decolonising Shakespeare? Contestations and re-imaginings for a post-liberation South Africa” themed colloquium, coinciding with the global commemorations of the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death.

The two-week student theatre festival highlights the work of young and emerging artists in KwaZulu-Natal, providing a space for student work to be showcased and celebrated. It features productions from UKZN (Howard College), the Durban University of Technology (DUT) and AFDA Durban, and seeks to engage with Shakespeare in a way that reflects the impact and presence of his plays in the contemporary South African context, particularly for young people.

“Shakespeare, after all, wrote his plays to be performed and, while the politics of Shakespeare may be contentious, his works remain the most performed plays in the world; we want to find ways to (re)explore (re)imagine those works in our “decolonised” space. What is also certain is that his works offer a potentially unique perspective on the world we live in today.  This Theatre Festival also explores that perspective in our unique South African context,” said UKZN lecturer and festival director, Tamar Meskin.

She added that there is a long and storied tradition of Shakespeare at UKZN; one of the most important of those stories is Welcome Msomi’s groundbreaking Umabatha, first staged in 1970 at the Open Air Theatre at UKZN, marking the first presentation in South Africa of an isiZulu version of a full-scale Shakespearean production.

Umabatha went on to play to a global audience, has since been published and is recognised as the seminal beginning point of Africa’s engagement with decolonising Shakespeare. Since then, Drama and Performance Studies has continued to engage with the work of (perhaps) the most contentious playwright in the history of English theatre,” said Meskin.

Msomi will deliver the keynote address on September 30. The event has been made possible through support from the Department of Arts and Culture and the Living Legends Legacy Project.

Between 2001 and 2010, UKZN presented an annual Shakespeare Festival, which saw more than 9000 school pupils visit the university to see productions ranging from A Midsummer Night’s Dream to Romeo and Juliet to Twelfth Night and The Winter’s Tale.

“The goal in each production was to make Shakespeare accessible for a multi-cultural, young, and uniquely South African audience. Whether it was a tokoloshe Puck, a gangster Romeo, a Jimi Hendrix Orsino, a hip-hop Oberon, or a football fan Dromio, the emphasis in all of the productions was to explore what gives Shakespeare’s works their theatrical magic,” said Meskin.

This year’s UKZN production, titled The Past is Prologue, is taken from The Tempest and is ambiguous: it offers both the potential to abandon the past in favour of the glorious future waiting ahead, but also may point to the importance of the past in shaping both the present and future.

“The production plays with this ambiguity in seeking to ‘decolonise’ Shakespeare by reinscribing his works with newly imagined meanings, viewed through newly created lenses, which can speak to the ethos of our time,” said Meskin.

Performances at #SHAKESPEAREmustFall? are at 6.30pm. Tickets are R40 for adults, R20 for pupils, students and block bookings over 10. Book with Claudette Wagner on (031)260-3133 or will also be available an hour before the performance, at the door.


  • DUT – Much Ado About Nothing, directed by Debbie Lutge. 6.30pm on Thursday, September 22, Friday, September 23 and Saturday, September 24.
  • AFDA – Shakespeare’s Women – The Space Between, written by Janet van Eeden and directed by Clinton Marius. Monday, September 26 and Tuesday, September 27 at 6.30 pm.
  • UKZN – The Past is Prologue, devised by Tamar Meskin, with Kamini Govender, Devaksha Moodley, and Donna Steel and directed by Tamar Meskin. Friday, September 30 and Saturday, October 1 at 6.30pm and 3 pm on Sunday, October 2.

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