"Sher and Doran’s Titus Andronicus: Importing Shakespeare, Exporting South Africa"

2006. Shakespeare in Southern Africa 18: 29-36.

This paper offers a retrospective analysis of the Market Theatre’s seminal 1995 production (in collaboration with the English National Theatre Studio) of Titus Andronicus, directed by Gregory Doran and starring Antony Sher in the title role. The analysis is framed by general comments on the reception and performance of Shakespeare in South Africa before, during and after apartheid, referring in particular to the work of Martin Orkin and David Johnson. In Woza Shakespeare (1996), their account of the production, Sher and Doran assert the play’s “relevance” to South African audiences. Yet (quite apart from alterations to the script) this relevance was, in some instances, contrived. The production attempted to portray aspects of South African history and address contemporary concerns – often through casting and costuming – but did not sufficiently acknowledge the ideological and social conditions directing that history and informing those concerns. Moreover, although the decision not to locate the tragedy of Titus within specific historical paradigms liberated the production from the level of simple allegory, it produced a number of awkward anachronisms. Nevertheless, the production remains significant in early post-apartheid stage and literary history, not least for the controversy it stimulated in two areas: firstly, its emphasis on South African accents challenged assumptions about the use of Received Pronunciation in the performance of Shakespeare’s plays; and secondly, complaints about poor attendance at the Market Theatre during the course of the run fuelled public debate over the status of the arts in South African society.
Chris Thurman - photo by Victor Dlamini

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