A taste of the ‘Bard’at Maynardville this holiday

Rehearsing the letter scene at Artscape are Bianca Mannie of Gardens, as Maria, Nicholas Pauling of Rosebank, as the opportunistic uncle, Sir Toby, and Roberto Kyle, of Woodstock, as Sir Andrew.

It’s time to shake out the blankets, brush the cobwebs from picnic baskets and get down to Maynardville Theatre.

Next year, the Bard’s words will ring out around Wynberg’s open-air theatre with the tragic-romance adaptation of Shakespearean comedy, Twelfth Night, taking place from Saturday January 21 to Saturday February 25. And while they may have talked funny in Shakespeare’s day, the Elizabethan playwright, has included all the ingredients of modern life to provide wonderful entertainment while also reflecting on mortality, the end of youth and how fleeting life is.

During an interview at Artscape, at the second rehearsal of the letter scene, director Geoffrey Hyland says Twelfth Night is a happy summer show, a merry-go-round of unrequited love, mistaken identities, food, clowning and drunken revelry.

An associate professor and head of UCT’s Drama Department, Geoff says he has given this Elizabethan era romantic comedy a contemporary African feel. “Using colourful costumes and music, it will create whirlwinds of delight in a merry-go-round of romance, pranks and masquerades,” he says. He has directed numerous Shakespearean plays. The last time he performed this one was to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Shakespeare productions at Maynardville Open-Air Theatre.

Providing a synopsis, he says Viola has been shipwrecked in a violent storm on the imagined island of Illyria, off the coast of Africa.

She has lost her twin brother, Sebastian, and not knowing if she is safe, she disguises herself as a boy and assumes the name Cesario.

She then becomes a page in the service of Orsino, the Duke who is in love with Olivia, who is not interested in him but instead falls in love with Cesario.

The twins cause mayhem with the locals, creating general mischief, anarchy and the exorcising of evil spirits as the story continues.

“The story borrows its title from the Christmas festivities on the twelfth night known as Epiphany. It’s a colourful, festive time after the solemnity of a dark winter,” says Geoff.

He is excited about the cast of 19 actors. “They’re excellent and very representative of Cape Town’s demography. From new talent to (my) ex-students, television veterans, award winning achievers and many familiar faces who have appeared in previous Shakespeare plays,” he says.

David Johnson stars as the love-sick Orsino, his apparent love interest, Olivia, is performed by Golden Globe-winning actress, Elizabeth Akudugu. New young talent, Lamla Ntsaluba, plays shipwrecked twin Sebastian alongside Awethu Hleli as his sister, Viola/Cesario.

The support cast includes Mark Elderkin as the puritanical Malvolio; Nicholas Pauling, as the opportunistic uncle, Sir Toby; and Wessel Pretorius as the witty clown Feste. Bianca Mannie plays Maria, Roberto Kyle is Sir Andrew, Oaribile Ditsile is Fabian, Siya Sikawuti as Captain with Adolph De Beer is Antonio.

The set is designed by Nicolas Mayer, costumes by Leigh Bishop, lighting by Luke Ellenbogen with sound by Liam Cookson.

Twelfth Night features an original score by the eclectic, afro-classical composer Neo Muyanga.

William Shakespeare is widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language and the world’s pre-eminent dramatist. But what relevance does he have in modern times?

Goeff says this question is asked time and again in the drama department. “Shakespeare doesn’t tell us what to do. Basically, he gives us the recipe book and we put the ingredients together. The language may be old and is different but so is high Xhosa or Zulu,” says Geoff.

He says many people tend to underestimate the challenges of working at Maynardville.

“You’ve got to get the recipe right. One thing wrong and the whole show will go sour.”

Shakespeare at Maynardville maintains a longstanding relationship with Western Cape schools, and while Twelfth Night is not a setwork production for 2017, Artscape CEO Marlene Le Roux says special school performances will still be accommodated on week nights.

“This valued public tradition has become a symbol of the continued insight that classical theatre has for us and for the education of our pupils. We once again dedicate performances to this journey of learning and welcome all the schools that continue to support us, and their own education, through this extraordinary tradition,” she says.

The annual Shakespeare at Maynardvile productions were founded in 1956 by Cecelia Sonnenburg and Rene Ahrenson. Now, in its 61st year, with the commitment of the City of Cape Town and the partnership between Artscape and the Maynardville Theatre Trust, the venue has been sponsored through the Mayor’s Special Events Committee.

Tickets are available at Artscape Box Office at 021 410 9838, Dial-a-Seat 021 421 7695 and Computicket, and range from R108 to R180. Family discounted tickets are available from R120 to R180 for the January 23 and 24 performances with preview tickets, between R120 to R180, for the January 17 to 20 shows. School discounts are available at R80 or through the box office manager.