To play is the thing: (re)imagining Shakespeare on a post-colonial stage
What would happen if Shakespeare were to appear in our contemporary South Africa? How would he respond? And what might he say about how his works have been rendered in the 400 years since his death? These questions were the catalyst for The Past is Prologue, a production devised and presented at the #SHAKESPEAREmustFALL? Festival at UKZN in 2016. The Festival offered a space to engage with Shakespeare through the lens of postcolonialism in order to interrogate the position of his works in a contemporary South African context. This engagement, I believe, must be through the performance – as opposed to the literary – text, and must ‘play’ with Shakespeare’s works without fear or awe; such an approach liberates the plays, taking them from their pedestals of high art and stripping them of their elitist status, thus allowing them to speak to, and for, us. In this paper, I adopt a self-study methodology to reflect on my own practice as the deviser and director of The Past is Prologue, examining my thinking in the genesis of the project, the development of the text, and the production itself, in order to grapple with the complex debates around Shakespeare in a post-apartheid, post-colonial word. One way we might ‘decolonise’ Shakespeare is, through play, to inscribe his works with (re)imagined meanings that can speak to the ethos of our time; in so doing, we might ‘resurrect’ a Shakespeare for the 21st century, and find in his ‘insubstantial pageants’ profound resonances of ourselves.