The Observer (Kampala)

17 March 2013

Uganda: Shakespeare's Grittiest Comes to Kampala

Theatre goers were on Friday treated to a thrilling show as a lineup of Ugandan and British actors took to the stage at National Theatre in Kampala in a rendition of William Shakespeare's classic play, Macbeth.

Word of the play's staging has been doing rounds since late last year, causing excitement among theatre buffs. Many hoped the latest efforts would be worthwhile because a few Ugandan theatre groups have previously attempted to stage the play but with little success.

So, even before British-born director, Tom Adlam, and his team hit the stage on Friday evening, they had their work well cut out.

A full-house waited in anxiety to catch a localized, yet professional version of a play considered to be Shakespeare's darkest and most powerful tragedies. The audience was instantly hooked right from the opening scene -with three creepy-looking witches as they summoned their demons.

The trio then proceeded, in their terrifying voices, to call on the play's protagonist Macbeth to come unto them for a message. From then on, the revellers were delighted with a thrilling retell of a highly political play which many believed was aimed at the current Ugandan government. But it is Macbeth's captivating storyline that makes it stand out.

The play, which some say is cursed because something tragic happens every time it is staged, is set in the 16th century. It chronicles a story of a Scottish king, Macbeth, who chooses evil as a way to fulfill his ambition for power. Yet Macbeth starts out as a brave, loyal and heroic soldier who fights for his people's freedom.

Macbeth is, however, corrupted upon receiving a prophecy from the witches that he would be king. Consumed by his ambition and spurred into action by his wicked wife, Macbeth murders reigning King Duncan and assumes the throne. Haunted by his treacherous actions, Macbeth goes on a rampage, killing whoever he suspects to be against him, including his loyal friends.

His murderous streak is, however, later brought to a halt as the people, led by King Duncan's exiled son, Malcolm, unite against him.

"This is a story of power, greed and self-possession," Adlam, who doubled as Macbeth, said of the play he conceived two years back.

"The real danger of being so powerful and overambitious is the fact that you don't trust anyone. This can really drive you paranoid," Adlam said, denying he intentionally wanted to criticize the NRM government.

But the co-director, a celebrated playwright and recent winner of BBC International Radio Playwright competition, Angella Emurwon, was quick to lash out at modern Ugandan politicians.

"This is a cautionary tale to our leaders who think more about themselves than the country," Emurwon said without mentioning names.

She added: "We expect our leaders to be responsible and accountable."

Emurwon revealed she usually stays away from politics because she knows the dangers of criticizing people in power, especially in Uganda. The Macbeth production has tasted its wrath.

At the beginning of this year, the Ugandan government arrested and deported Keith Prosser, a British national, for apparently starring in the controversial homophobia-themed play, The River and the Mountain, which made two appearances in Kampala before Police banned it and started persecuting its cast and crew.

Prosser had been cast to play a lead role in Macbeth; his deportation greatly disrupted the set. The production suffered several other shortcomings.

"Another actor was initially cast to play Macbeth but he pulled out on the last hour because he thought the role was too gritty and controversial. I had to step in and invite Angella to help with the directing," said Adlam who has stayed in Uganda for the last eight years and is married to a Ugandan woman.

Luckily, they were able to reorganize in time and pull off a great show. The Ugandan cast, despite failing to nail Shakespeare's ballistic English, didn't disappoint. Rehema Nanfuka put up the best performance as the evil Lady Macbeth. Samuel Lutaaya (Malcolm), Boxa Franklyn Boko (henchman), Brian Emurwon (Banquo) and Tom Mulinde (soldier) were also impressive.

Macbeth will showcase for seven straight days at the National Theatre until Saturday. Entrance fee is Shs 20,000 for adults and Shs10,000 for students.

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