Mish Mash Media Productions will stage an all-female production of Shakespeare’s Othello, from June 23 to July 8 at the Galloway Theatre at the Waterfront Theatre School and the Drama Factory in Strand, respectively. The play is set in a modern-day female prison with no male characters, among the first of its kind for Shakespeare in South African theatre.
“With our interpretation of Othello, we are telling the story in a new way, while still staying true to the themes of the original text. The themes of racism, hierarchy, jealousy and betrayal transcend sex and gender, so we thought why not give the characters in this play, who were traditionally male, and sadly always written as the more layered characters, a female voice?” says co-director Adolph De Beer, who is no stranger to Shakespeare (having performed in ‘Twelfth Night’ at Maynardville in 2017), upon this, is his directorial theatre debut.
The traditional production of Othello is a Shakespearian tragedy believed to be written in 1603. It follows the story a powerful black general (Othello, played by Annitha Judith Kontyo) whose life and marriage are ruined by scheming villain (Iago, played by Regina R. Malan) who feels betrayed by Othello’s promotion of a soldier (Cassio, played by Leku Dube-Rudling) over himself. Iago’s clever plot to take down Othello involves playing on Othello’s insecurities about his race and manipulating him into believing that his wife (Desdemona, played by Candice Burgess) is guilty of adultery, which leads to a fatal series of events.
“The issues that Shakespeare was dealing with in this play over 400 years ago, are still relevant today. This says so much about how far humanity still needs to go in terms of changing its mindset. People continue to struggle with insecurities around race, sexism and spousal abuse, not just in South Africa but all over the world. By setting the play in modern times, while staying true to the original text, we hope to highlight this irony,” says Malan, who is also co-directing with De Beer.
The decision to stage the play in an all-female prison was two-fold. The first was to create context for an all-female cast and females playing females, instead of females playing male parts. The second was to use the prison as a metaphor for mental and physical barriers that people set for themselves, showcasing how people do not have to be from the opposite sex, race or religion to be sexist or patriarchal. “We create barriers for ourselves and others out of fear and insecurity. In a prison, we are broken down to our most primal selves, and you will find same-sex relationships, in-fighting and power struggles, violence, racism and more, so the prison seemed like a good setting to capture the darkest and purest sides of people.”
When casting the show, it was a no-brainer for directors De Beer and Malan to find emerging artists who are looking for work. The duo realised that as emerging artists themselves, it can sometimes be difficult to find parts if you don’t have the experience on paper, so to gain experience and grow as artists, they have set out to make work for themselves, while offering other performers opportunities along the way. “The casting process was quite intense, as we really needed to find actors who could embody the qualities of these complex characters. We saw a lot of actors over a three-day period and were lucky to find the perfect combination of talented women,” Malan continues.
Chemistry between the ladies was important and finding the right Othello to lead the cast was a challenge at first, but when young Annitha Judith Kontyo, a former student of The New York Film Academy, walked into the audition room to read for the part, they knew they had their lady. This is Kontyo’s first attempt at Shakespearian theatre. “The whole thing is way out of my comfort zone, so it’s a great challenge and learning opportunity for me. The all-female cast was a big draw card, and I’m so excited for all the ladies to blow everyone away,” says Kontyo.
Othello, A Women’s Story will run on the following dates:
The Galloway Theatre: June 20 to 23
The Drama Factory: June 27 to July 1
The Galloway Theatre: July 4 to July 8
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The Galloway Theatre is on Port Rd, Cape Town City Centre.
The Drama Factory is at 25 Comprop Sq, Henry Vos Close, Asla Business Park, Strand. Visit www.thedramafactory.co.za for more information.