Don’t miss Welcome Msomi’s iconic play, ‘uMabatha’ at DUT’s Courtyard Theatre


The cast of uMabatha, which is being staged at DUT’s Courtyard Theatre. Photo: Siya Meyiwa

The Durban University of Technology Department of Drama and Production Studies will present a re-interpretation of Welcome Msomi’s iconic and critically-acclaimed 1971 play, uMabatha, until 18 May .

Msomi’s play, known as known as ‘the Zulu Macbeth‘, offers a localised reading of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. It will be staged at the Courtyard Theatre, Steve Biko Road, Ritson Campus, Gate 6. 
Msomi explored themes in Macbeth such as abuse of power and unchecked ambition, and their potential to corrupt; greed and deceit; tyranny and oppression; and fate vs free will, all set in the context of early 19th-century South Africa.

He (freely) interpreted and aligned Shakespeare’s original narrative to run parallel to the historical narrative of Shaka kaSenzangakhona (Shaka Zulu).

Characters and locations were transposed to a local context: Macbeth, Macduff, Lady Macbeth and Banquo become Mabatha, Mafudu, Kamadonsela and Bhangane respectively, and the invading army that defeats Mabatha is Swazi.

Said the late Lucky Sibaya in his publication on uMabatha: “The witchcraft, intrigues, plotting, assassinations in William Shakespeare’s Macbeth are, in uMabatha, cleverly allied to those that occurred in the development of the Zulu nation.

“uMabatha is not a Zulu version of Macbeth but portrays historical Zulu events woven around Shakespeare’s plot. Clothed in Zulu dress and using mystic language, tribal dancing is incorporated as was done in traditional Zulu custom. Masks, dances of supplication, exorcism, defiance and scorn build the story of tradition, magic and ritual.”

Written in 1970, the play is a landmark in the South African theatre landscape.

Welcome Msomi was encouraged in his work, and ultimately to international acclaim, by Professor Elizabeth Sneddon, former Head of the Department of Speech and Drama at the University of Natal.

uMabatha was first produced in the Natal University’s Open Air Theatre (now the University of KwaZulu-Natal) in 1971.

Welcome was invited to close the Royal Shakespeare Company’s World Theatre Season in London with his play in 1972. The production was remounted in 1973 at London’s Aldwych Theatre, where it broke all box office records.

It was subsequently staged numerous times during the 1970s, including productions at the Italian and American Spoleto Festivals, London’s Old Vic (1977) and for three months at an off-Broadway theatre in New York City, as well as at various theatres in Aberdeen in Scotland, Zimbabwe, Cape Town and Johannesburg.

uMabatha was revived in post-Apartheid South Africa in 1995 at the request of Nelson Mandela.

This production is directed by DUT’s drama lecturer Siza KaMnisi Mthembu, and features DUT Department of Drama and Production Studies students. For bookings phone Lebo Sibisi on 031 373 1694 o/h.


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