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close this bookThe Courier N° 136 - Nov-Dec 1992 - Dossier Humanitarian Aid - Country Reports: Soa Tomé- Principe- Senegal (EC Courier, 1992, 96 p.)
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View the documentShakespeare on tour
View the documentThe ACP countries at the Barcelona Olympic Games
View the documentMozambican artist offers hope

Shakespeare on tour

by Richard HOWARD

The world's best-known dramatist in any language must surely be the English playwright William Shakespeare, the excitement of whose works is matched only by the drama of the times in which he lived 400 years ago, during the reigns of Queen Elizabeth I and James I. Shakespeare's plays brim with heroes and villains, lovers and tyrants, soldiers and shopkeepers, tragic and comic figures whose doings still interest audiences even today. In the country of his birth virtually all his plays are still performed, and generally fill the theatres where they are put on. In part, of course, this is because they are studied in schools, and teachers like to show their classes how the words on the page come to life as soon as they are spoken by flesh-and-blood actors.

In Britain the state-funded cultural organisation, the British Council, long ago realised that schoolchildren and students in many countries abroad also read Shakespeare, and that live performances of his works are an exportable asset with a ready market wherever Hamlet or Othello, Richard III or Prospero, Romeo and Juliet are familiar names. However, Shakespeare's plays are on the grand scale: some of them have more than 30 characters, mostly clothed in gorgeous historical costumes, and the texts call for stages set as castles, town squares, palaces, magic forests and islands, tombs, shipwrecks... A literal staging would cost a fortune to transport around the world.

Fortunately, however, there is a way round this economic problem, and it lies in the plays themselves. In Shakespeare's time they were done on a bare stage, by actors wearing the clothing of their own day and using only a minimum of props. The same practice can be followed today, as the language is so full of expressive imagery that expensive sets and elaborate accessories are not actually needed. And by putting each actor in more than one role, as the structure of the plays allows, a skilful director can reduce the manpower needed to much more manageable proportions without affecting the audience's enjoyment of the story.

In fact, with judicious pruning of the text, a mere handful of actors can tour to distant countries with full versions of several Shakespeare plays. The British stage and television actor Richard Howard, a veteran of Britain's National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company, here describes his experiences working with the surprisingly small London Shakespeare Group in many different parts of the world.

The London Shakespeare Group was created by the British actors John Fraser, Gary Raymond, Delena Kidd and Susan Farmer in 1976, when, in association with the British Council, it began sending companies of four to eight actors throughout the world to perform Shakespeare's plays. It is still run by one of the founder members, Delena Kidd, from an office in London as a successful commercial entreprise which employs top actors from all areas of the theatrical profession who enjoy the challenge of travel and the prospect of performing in unexpected venues and before people of all ages and nationalities. Packing the entire set and costumes into one or three trunks (depending on the number of actors taking part), the company has performed in venues as diverse as a school-room in Mafeteng, Lesotho and a bat-infested courtroom in Batticaloa, Sri Lanka; from the Japanese city of Hiroshima to the theatre at Rose Hill, Mauritius; in a beach garden in Oman or at universities in Addis Ababa and Seoul. On a visit to India, we once had to go to work on horseback to reach the Gaiety Theatre in Simla.

For the 1978 tour of East and Southern Africa, showing five Shakespeare plays, the company comprised Ian Talbot playing Shylock (a Jewish merchant), Bottom (an Athenian weaver) and Brutus (a Roman general - wearing a pair of purple boots as there were no standard-issue black Army boots available); Ian McCulloch as Macbeth (King of Scotland and psychopath) and Mark Anthony (another Roman general), and playing music;

Delena Kidd in the roles of Portia (a Venetian lady) and Lady Macbeth (Queen of Scotland, the evil genius behind her husband) and wardrobe mistress; and Richard Howard performing Cassius (a Roman politician) and Bassanio (a Venetian gentleman) and directing the plays. All we took was one trunk full of costumes and props, the ass's head from the production of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' performed in the open air in Regent's Park in London, a guitar and our personal baggage. The trunk itself was the set. For 'The Merchant of Venice' it became the dock behind which Antonio stands accused by Shylock, for 'Macbeth' it stood in for the ramparts of Dunsinane Castle and for 'Julius Caesar' it was the corpse of Caesar himself. In one of the plays about King Henry IV, it served as the mock throne which the drunken knight Sir John Falstaff sits on to impersonate the King; and for 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' it was just ... a trunk.

This is how each performance started. The trunk was placed on the floor with a few chairs in a semi-circle behind it. As soon as the audience (anything from 100 to 1000 people) was in, the trunk was opened and a piece of chalk taken from inside. A circle was then drawn on the floor and, while three of us set props and pieces of costume in pre-arranged positions on and around the chairs, Ian Talbot would deliver a prepared speech which included the business of jumping in and out of the circles saying: 'Now I'm acting - and now I'm not.' The audience could usually tell the difference!

At a school in Livingstone, where the audience moved us greatly with their singing of the Zambian national anthem before the show, we performed 'Julius Caesar'. After the trunk, as Caesar, had been stabbed to death and covered with a blood-stained toga, Brutus walked forward and spoke to the citizens of Rome: 'Who is here so vile that will not love his country? If any, speak; for him have I offended. I pause for a reply.' 'None, Brutus, none,' replied the entire audience, unprompted and unrehearsed. It was a moment when we could just imagine what it must have been like to have performed the play for the first time when it was written in 1600, at a time when the story was familiar to the audience but the drama brand-new. In performances of 'The Merchant of Venice', there was always a gasp of shock in the court-room scene where Shylock is about to cut out his adversary's heart in settlement of an unpaid debt, when Portia, speaking as a lawyer, advises Shylock that he is legally entitled to do it only if he spills no blood in the process: 'Tarry a little, there is something else. This bond cloth give thee here no jot of blood; The words expressly are a pound of flesh.'

In Livingstone, by the way, we stayed in a hotel called 'The Smoke that Thunders', the local name for the Victoria Falls, and were lucky enough to have the author of the plays with us... It was, in fact, the British Council representative and head of English teaching in Zambia, who, with his bald head and beard, looked exactly like Shakespeare.

Selibe Pikwe in Botswana is a place to which we often returned in order to change aircraft and once had to switch seats as a company of soldiers fighting for the independence of what is now Zimbabwe commandeered the rear of the plane. Our chartered aircraft to Maun, which lies to the north of the Kalahari between the Okavango swamps and the Makgadikgadi salt pans, was just big enough for us, our luggage and the pilot, and we had an exhilarating flight as we shadowed herds of zebra across the desert. The return journey was less thrilling as the pilot of our scheduled flight was a one-man band who also checked us in and stowed the luggage. And there was an extra passenger. The pilot was unwilling to take the trunk as it would make the plane too heavy and a storm was brewing. In the end and after a lot of shoving and heaving, he agreed and we took off. The storm broke, the plane was thrown about very badly and we had to make for an airstrip beyond Gaborone. There we saw some children waiting to see who was arriving, so Ian put on the life-like ass's head before climbing out of the plane and, with ears flapping, eyes winking and jaw snapping, he appeared before the crowd. As the children backed away with a mixture of fear and fascination we discovered exactly how to play the scene from 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' where Bottom appears before his friends having been magically 'translated' into an ass by the fairy Puck.

During a tour of the romantic comedy 'Twelfth Night' to Uganda in 1984, we were invited to a performance of a local play which had elements of another Shakespeare play, 'Pericles' (princes competing for the hand of a beautiful princess) and of the fairy story of 'Beauty and the Beast' (the most hideous competitor winning the princess's hand). We expected the play to end happily but unbelievably in the 'kiss a frog, reveal a handsome prince' manner, but it ended more grimly and true to life with the monstrous hero claiming the princess according to her father's promise. Real life came on stage in another way in Uganda when President Obote came to the show. Two of his soldiers were posted in the wings, and during the heroine Viola's soliloquy, after Malvolio has left her alone with Olivia's ring, one of the fully armed soldiers entered upstage left and, from the back of the stage, took his time to survey the audience. Viola's only complaint afterwards was that she had got fewer laughs than usual.

As testimony to the unending popularity of these plays, I am at present in England rehearsing the role of Peter Quince for a production of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' to be performed in Sheffield to mark the 21st birthday of the Crucible Theatre; and the London Shakespeare Group is preparing another production of the play to tour the Gulf early in 1993.
R.H.

The ACP countries at the Barcelona Olympic Games

by Francisco GRANELL

The Olympic Games may always have been regarded as a world event, but this description is particularly appropriate in the case of the 25th Olympiad which was held in Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, Spain, from 25 July to 9 August.

These Games, the first since the fall of the Iron Curtain, are also the first in recent years not to have suffered from boycotts or political controversies. Spain has no enemies and it is a country which is somewhat 'in fashion' at the moment. In 1992, in addition to the Olympics, it has also staged the fifth centenary celebrations of the 'discovery' of America by Christopher Columbus, and the Universal Exposition in Seville.

The Mediterranean city of Barcelona, which is Spain's industrial capital, welcomed the sporting representatives of 172 countries. This was a record level of participation for the modern Olympics, which were founded by Baron Pierre de Coubertin in 1896.

The Spanish government, the Catalonia regional government and the Barcelona city authorities made significant infrastructural investments for the occasion, designed to create an appropriate environment for all the sporting events and to provide suitable living conditions for almost 11 000 athletes and 5000 technical staff who came together in Barcelona for the Games. The investments included airport modernisation, Olympic villages and urban motorways.

The work done by Barcelona 92's Olympic Steering Committee (COOB '92), which was set up for the purpose of organising the 25th Olympiad, ensured that by the end of the Games a balanced budget had been achieved. Excessive investments and expenditure - of the kind which led some previous Olympics to record substantial deficits - were avoided. The overall economic impact of the Olympics has been calculated at some ECU 10 000 million.

There was, moreover, almost worldwide coverage of the Games by the major television networks and newspapers. It is calculated that 3 500 million television viewers tuned in to the opening ceremony held at the Montjuic Olympic stadium. This is located in an area which became known as the «Olympic Ring» on a hill overlooking the Mediterranean together with other sporting venues such as the Sant Jordi multi-sports centre, the Picornell pool and the Sports University (where the Secretariat of the Association of European Institutes of Physical Education and Sport has its headquarters).

Under the symbolic Olympic figures represented by the logo and mascot (the dog COBI) the athletes competed in 25 official and three demonstration sports.

The European Community was well represented at the Barcelona Games. The President of the Commission, Jacques Delors, and a number of Commissioners joined King Juan Carlos I of Spain and the President of the International Olympic Committee, Juan Antonio Samaranch, at the opening ceremony. Part of the ceremony was devoted to underlining the importance of Europe for Barcelona, Catalonia and Spain. It is worth recalling that the Mayor of Barcelona is current President of the Assembly of the Council of Municipalities and Regions of Europe and that the President of the autonomous government of Catalonia (Generalitat) is President of the Assembly of European Regions.

All twelve Community Member States took part in the Barcelona Olympics and ten of them won medals.


The 24 ACP medallists at the Barcelona Olympic Games

Sixty African, Caribbean and Pacific countries associated with the European Community under the Lomonvention also sent teams of varying sizes to take part. Some of these were assisted under the programme run by the International Olympic Committee which is designed to help developing countries take part in the Games.

At the Seoul Olympics in 1988, the athletes of five ACP countries (Kenya, Suriname, Jamaica, Senegal and Djibouti) won Olympic medals. Barcelona saw an improved performance, with athletes from eight ACP countries mounting the winners' podium (see table). In 1988, the ACP states obtained 14 Olympic medals. In Barcelona, the figure rose to 24, of which 21 were on an individual basis and the remaining three were in team events. The team successes were for the Nigerian men in the 4 x 100 metres (silver), the Nigerian women over the same distance (bronze) and Ghana's football team, which took a bronze after beating Australia 1-0 at the Barcelona Football Club stadium.

There were two ACP athletes who each won two silver medals on the track. The Jamaican, Juliet Cuthbert, came second in the 100 and 200 metres while Frank Fredericks of Namibia performed the same feat in the men's sprint events.

Kenyan athletes Mathew Birir, Patrick Sang and William Mutwol achieved a historic clean sweep for their country in taking first, second and third places in the 3000 metres steeplechase.

As mentioned above, there was a double success for the Nigerian sprint relay teams. In the men's 4 x 100 metres, the Nigerian quartet came second to the United States in a race which saw the latter establish a new world record in an incredible 37.40 seconds. The Nigerian women came third after the United States and the team from the Commonwealth of Independent States (athletes from republics of the former Soviet Union).

The two other gold medals won by ACP athletes were in the men's 800 metres (William Tanui of Kenya) and the women's 10 000 metres (Derartu Tulu of Ethiopia).

From this assessment of ACP participation at the Barcelona Olympics, one clear fact emerges - most of the medals were won in athletics. ACP athletes took three gold, ten silver and seven bronze medals in the stadium as compared with only four elsewhere - two in the boxing arena, one in the swimming pool and one on the football field.

In conclusion, it should be noted that as regards the number of medals won, Kenya came 21st in the unofficial classification of participating countries. Other positions were; Ethiopia (33), Jamaica (38), Nigeria (39), Namibia (41) and the Bahamas, Ghana and Suriname (all 55). Only 64 of the 172 participating countries won medals.

When one considers the World Bank rankings of GDP per capita - Kenya (169), Ethiopia (202), Jamaica (120), Nigeria (185), Namibia (86), Ghana (165) and Suriname (76), one can conclude that all these countries had a very good Olympics in terms of their relative economic position, particularly in a highly professionalised sporting environment dominated nowadays by economic and publicity considerations. Only the Bahamas, which occupies 32nd place in the world's GDP per capita ranking, had a lower medal classification (55th place), but it must be remembered this country is 110th in the world in population terms.

Finally, it is worth mentioning the performance of the European Community. The EC's Member States won a total of 200 medals - 71 gold, 50 silver and 79 bronze. This compares with 112 medals for the CIS and 108 for the United States. These figures allow us to compare the ACP performance with that of the world leaders in the sporting arena, but they also reveal the sporting strength of the Community should the situation ever arise where it enters a single team in Olympic competition.

F.G.

Mozambican artist offers hope

by Chris McIVOR

With 20 years of almost continuous civil war that has resulted in economic collapse, a mass exodus of refugees to neighbouring countries and starvation for many of its people, it does not seem that Mozambique has much to offer in the way of an environment which is conducive to creativity. Yet out of the horror of these last two decades, Mozambican painter and sculptor, Shikani, has managed to translate that experience into the material of art - something more positive than the usual images that are associated with that unfortunate country.

Speaking at a recent display of his work in Harare, the 58-year old artist, who has exhibited widely in London, Washington, Rome, Lisbon and Moscow, as well as in southern Africa, claimed, 'Much of what I do is a reflection of the world around: me, in particular the suffering of the peasants in our country. But I am not a photographer. The role of the artist is to go beyond the particular to portray something that can transcend time, place and circumstance.' Echoing this sentiment, renowned Kenyan sculptor, Joseph Muli, stated at the opening of the Harare exhibition that Shikani's work utilised many of the symbols, motifs and styles of traditional African sculpture and dance. The faces depicted in many of his works have a mask-like quality that expresses not only the present reality of contemporary Mozambique but also the suffering, hopes and fears of many generations of Africans. 'The faces in these sculptures and painting are hundreds of years old.'

Born in a small, rural village in the district of Marrakwene (north of Maputo) in 1934, there was little obvious indication in his early life that Shikani was destined to become the renowned artist he now is. Poverty and hardship for the peasant family he was born into was never very far away from their door. He spent most of his early years until the age of 16 with the other boys from the village, looking after the family's cattle and occasionally attending primary school. But at the age of 12, Shikani had begun to work in clay, sculpting models of animals and people around him. This artistic tendency, he claims, was inherited from his grandfather who had carved masks and religious objects for the surrounding community and had been a traditional healer of some renown.

Shikani recalls that much of what he sculpted in crude materials in those early days has a direct relationship to what he has done in wood and paint. 'I never wanted merely to portray the world around me as it presented itself to my eyes. Objects were simply the starting point for creating something different; a pointer to the world behind the senses.' Shikani relates this perception to the traditional rural background from which he came and the preservation of traditional religious values within the community, which, in his early years, had not been completely eroded by Portuguese colonialism and imported Christianity.

His sculptures, which became more prolific as time went on when he moved into wood, aroused a mixed response in the community where he lived and this, he claims is also the type of reaction his current works arouse among the Mozambican public. While many members of the community seemed able to relate to what he was trying to do and encouraged him to continue, others believed that his sculptures were crude and primitive. 'They were unable to see anything in them in the same way that they were unable to see anything of value in the traditional social, economic and cultural life of our villages.' Shikani believes that this dichotomy continues to exist in African society between those who have been 'brainwashed' in terms of imported culture and those who still retain, however tenuously, some hold on local values and perceptions. 'Part of my aim is to awaken that inclination.'

Within a wider Mozambican society, Shikani's works began to arouse interest and he participated in a number of exhibitions in Maputo and Beira. In his mid-twenties, he became an assistant to a Portuguese sculptor at the Beira Art School where he worked both during and after the liberation struggle for the independence of Mozambique. Shikani acknowledges his debt to the training he received during those years, largely based on Western art techniques and styles, but while he has utilised this knowledge in his subsequent works, his content has remained true to his early formative years in the rural areas. His main subjects are still the peasants of the countryside in the range of their experiences from childhood through to old age and death.

Given the current reality of life in that country today, it is little wonder that many of these images are tortured and painful. Shikani claims that part of his role is to alert an international audience to the reality of millions of people in his own country and other parts of Africa ravaged by famine, war and poverty. But he does not agree that his works are pessimistic or negative. The people and situations he portrays are not without dignity and the last emotion he wishes to evoke in his audience is pity. 'The peasants have suffered for hundreds of years in different parts of the world and yet, despite such hardships, hope and faith have always continued.' It is a vision of his own country and continent that is a welcome contrast to what is usually offered.

C.McI.