The Globe to Globe season is a celebration of artists from all over the world, speaking Shakespeare’s plays in their own language, and as a Zimbabwean born and bred I couldn’t help but feel a swell of national pride when I realised one of these languages would be Shona, one of Zimbabwe’s native tongues. Embarrassingly, I don’t speak a word of it, so national pride jostled with the prospect of standing for two hours watching Shakespeare, usually only just comprehensible, made completely incomprehensible by the lack of any words I understand. What sealed the deal however, and gave me the courage to brave the threatening rain, was the fact that this two-hander is performed by friends from home (one of whom I took to my school leaver’s dance); and that I saw it, many years ago, when it was in its infancy, in English and workshopped in a lounge in West London.
One of Shakespeare’s comedies, Two Gentlemen of Verona has everything you expect from the Bard’s sense of humour – a woman dressed as a man, lovers separated and reunited, people sent out of the city and a man with a dog. Given the range of characters in the piece, Denton Chikura and Tonderai Munyevu have their work cut out for them as they stride, dance, race and simper across the stage. You think you’d get confused but with the use of just one item of clothing (and don’t forget the talcum powder) to differentiate each character I never did. It’s more than the “costumes” of course, Chikura and Munyevu really inhabit each character -the donning of a hat transforms accent, demeanour and manner as much as any full costume could.
Wearing the white glove each is his very own Julia and Chikura’s deadpan talcum powder-faced clown was one of the highlights of the show – even if I didn’t understand a word of his soliloquies. For only two performers they also do an impressive job of using the whole space from auditorium to balcony. You aren’t given a moment to get bored if you don’t speak the language because they simply don’t stand still for long enough.
As the show came to a close two hours felt like hardly anything. I’d laughed as heartily as anyone who understood the words and never once felt the need to count the minutes till the end. The four curtain calls and standing ovation (not just us in the yard who were already on our feet) are proof to the fact that it wasn’t just because the songs reminded me of growing up in Zimbabwe, or the fact that Munyevu's Lucetta could well have been modelled on our own maid at home, Enesia, that I enjoyed this show. We were all - bemused Americans in front of me and chuckling Japense behind me - as taken with this irreverent and joyous celebration, not just of Shakespeare but also of the power of performance to universalise experience.
I can’t help but think that Shakespeare himself would have been amused – we weren’t reverent before the altar of the world’s most famous playwright but rather cheering on his characters and glaring at his villains as he must have written them. And what can I say, it’s not every day that the man who took you to your school leaver’s dance performs on stage at the Globe.
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