Zulu ‘Macbeth’ to play Bard’s Old Globe

JOHANNESBURG — William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth” will take to the stage of London’s Globe Theatre on Aug. 4 — performed by Zulus in the Zulu language.

South African playwright Welcome Msomi told Daily Variety that his Zulu adaptation of the Bard’s play — “Umabatha” — will play for a week at the Globe after a season at the State Theatre in New York’s Lincoln Center from July 21-28. It will also appear Oct. 4 at the Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles.

“There’s something special about the Globe,” Msomi said. “This is a very exciting challenge.”

“Umabatha” — a vibrant mixture of drama, traditional Zulu music, dance and poetry — was performed for the first time in 1972 in the South African city of Durban, while Msomi, now 53, was a drama student.

It proved so popular that Msomi took it to London’s Aldwych Theatre in 1973, where it proved a runaway winner. It then went around the world, ending up in New York in 1979. There both it and Msomi stayed in exile until 1993, when radical changes in the South African political arena — Nelson Mandela had been released from prison and democratic elections were scheduled for the following year — enabled Msomi to return home.

The head of Johannesburg’s Civic Theatre, Allen Joseph, suggested he revive “Umabatha,” which he finally agreed to do.

He left the original play intact but, he said, added new music, recruited a new cast, added subtitles and honed up some of the dance routines to come up with a fresh, energetic “Umabatha” two years ago.

A positive review in the Wall Street Journal alerted New York agency Columbia Artists Management, which contacted Msomi and offered to market the play internationally.

After the London run, he said, the 60-strong cast will be taking “Umabatha” to the Far East and Australia.

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