Close Encounters: Staging Julius Caesar, Coriolanus and Antony and Cleopatra in contemporary South Africa

  • Marguerite de Waal


Is there room, as Natasha Distiller asked in 2012, for a “close encounter” with Shakespeare in post-apartheid South Africa? This question has become increasingly pertinent. Following the Fallist movements which were ignited at universities across the country in 2015, calls for the decolonisation of curricula and cultural institutions have been coupled with growing resistance against pervading socio-economic inequalities. Amongst other things, the student protests represented a rejection of “old ways of reading” characterised in both ideological and material terms by  exclusion, lack of access and disempowerment. This article suggests that Distiller’s question may be engaged with reference to stage adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays in educational and/or academic settings which took  place before, during and after the student movements of 2015–16. These are two productions by the National  Children’s Theatre aimed at secondary school students – Coriolanus (2016) and Antony and Cleopatra (2018) – and two university productions: The Julius Caesar Project (2013) at the University of the Witwatersrand, and DCoriolanus (2017) at the University of Pretoria. Through close consideration of the strategies and decisions employed in staging these productions, the paper argues that the medium of theatre, and the ways in which it has been used by South African performers and theatre-makers, is key to understanding how both subversive and productive “close encounters” with Shakespeare might be enacted