A stand out Iago, and haply, she is black

Originally published in Cue.

Moor, Rhodes University’s contribution to this year’s Student Theatre Festival, is a powerful and thought-provoking adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Othello.

Director Jess Harrison, currently doing her Master’s degree in directing at Rhodes, successfully adapts the Bard’s racially-charged script with the ideas of Fanon, Cleaver, Malcolm X, Biko and du Bois.

While Moor is still set in Venice and Cyprus, the racial dichotomy within the piece is played out between ex-colonial whites and amaXhosa instead of Venetian elites and the “noble moor”.

Othello, intensely portrayed by Masixole Heshu, speaks almost entirely in isiXhosa throughout the play.

The whole cast deliver solid performances but Pumelela “Push” Nqelenga as a black, female Iago stands out by far.

Whether conniving with nobles in Shakespearean speech, manipulating Othello in isiXhosa or deriding the audience’s complicit participation in his downfall in contemporary English, Nqelenga is supremely captivating.

In typical Rhodes Drama fashion, the entire play is visually striking, from the constant inclusion of physical theatre and dance to a set and costumes coloured starkly in blacks, whites and reds.

Moor is one of three adaptations of Shakespearean plays on at the Student Theatre Festival.

The other two are Vrek, an adaptation of Titus Andronicus by the University of the Free State, and Romeo ‘n Juliet Unplugged, a shortened version of the famous tragedy by the University of Johannesburg.

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