School festival freshens up Shakespeare

Amor Quimuanga as Bethany, with Kazimla Dyakalashe who plays Makenzie “Lady B” Macbeth.

A bare stage. Thunder. Lightning. A school bell rings as an actor asks what happened to the lights. “Eskom” comes the reply. And so begins Blouberg International School’s re-imagining of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

The school, along with Westlake Primary School, kicked off the second season of the 12th Shakespeare Schools Festival South Africa, at the Baxter Theatre, in Rondebosch, on Wednesday August 10. The season runs until Saturday August 20.

The first season was held at the Precinct Homecoming Centre in District Six from Friday May 6 to Monday May 14.

Founded in 2009 by Kseniya Filinova-Bruton, the festival gets aspiring young actors to present innovative, abridged versions of Shakespeare’s plays of their choice in no more than 45 minutes.

The performers are encouraged to make the productions relatable to themselves and their peers, according to festival manager Blythe Stuart-Linger.

“It’s a non-competitive environment and kids have loads of fun while learning at the same time,” she says.

Throughout the preparation process, the festival team assists with scripts and provides acting and directing tips. They also run educational programmes alongside to benefit teachers, learner-directors and casts.

Blouberg International School English teacher Genevieve Kerswill says they chose a modernised version of Macbeth.

“It’s a spin-off that takes place in an all-girls’ school, Dunsinane High, and instead of aspiring to be king or queen, Macbeth wants to be head girl. Lady Macbeth, in this version, is Bethany, played by Amor Quimuanga, Makenzie Macbeth’s girlfriend, who urges her to get to the top through murder,” says Ms Kerswill.

“The decision to modernise the play was made in order to help the students connect with the characters. When in its original form, not many thought it was intense or extreme, but when thrown into a modern setting, and including problems our youth may face, the cast found the play shocking because it’s traditionally filled with multiple grotesque murders and a suicide.

“The translation of the witches was a group of strange Shakespeare/science nerds. They are the only characters for which the original wording was retained to maintain the effect of them being ‘other’ as well as the melodic nature of their lines,” says Ms Kerswill.

She says the school took A Midsummer Night’s Dream to the Shakespeare School’s Festival in 2020 and enjoyed it so much that they were hooked and decided to make it a yearly endeavour to allow their pupils the opportunity to develop their talents and passion and to perform on a professional stage.

“Though we were rehearsing intermittently for some time, the script change was only complete about a month ago. We also had to adapt to the space as we currently do not have a stage or adequate space in which to rehearse for a stage such as the Baxter. I’m so proud of all of the cast and crew members, many of whom were on stage in this capacity for the first time. They were extremely nervous, but did their utmost,” says Ms Kerswill.

Showing their support, from left, are Ashley Fiamongo, Gabi Martin, Kyra Nairn, Nikita van Taak and Nic Fiamingo.
The cast from Blouberg International School in Parklands and Westlake Primary School in Westlake with master of ceremonies Aadam Gaidien, of Muizenberg, right.