Unusually for a single creative undertaking, the project encompasses all South Africa’s non-English official languages. The country’s rich multilingualism shines through in the colourful variety of tongues, ranging from the predominant isiZulu, isiXhosa and Afrikaans to languages such as Tshivenda and isiNdebele that are spoken by smaller numbers of people and comparatively rarely heard on stage or in film. The result is a linguistic soundscape that reflects the country and is in itself a pleasure to listen to, with its rhythms and inflections, its clicks and gutturals.
A defining feature of the Speak Me A Speech project is the nature of the language, acting style and mode of portrayal of the characters – consistently contemporary, colloquial, naturalistic, fresh. The overarching directorial decision at the outset was that the men and women from Shakespeare’s imagination encountered here would speak today’s languages in the manner of the people of today.
But more than merely re-presenting in other languages characters that have been presented countless times before over the centuries, the project reimagines them – in the contemporary world, in a local context, transplanted and freshly conceived. Recognisably of our time, these are Shakespeare characters inhabiting the same world as the viewers of the films.
the project reimagines the Shakespeare characters –
in the contemporary world, in a local context,
transplanted and freshly conceived
This style of presentation and the resulting immediacy of comprehension instantly strip away the obscuring effect of old language that so often mars the understanding and enjoyment of Shakespeare. The illuminating insights and the pleasures to be had from following the wealth of thinking and feeling in the old texts become readily accessible to new audiences – opening up worlds to many for whom this would otherwise forever have remained forbidding and incomprehensible terrain. And remarkably, to many for whom these monologues in Shakespeare’s words are familiar territory, sometimes dulled by overfamiliarity, the foreign-language, reimagined performances can often land with the refreshing shock of the new, yielding striking new perspectives.
Achieving this project goal requires a hybrid, case-by-case approach. In some instances it is possible to draw on existing translations of a selected monologue into the target language, in which case the text is revised and updated where necessary to reflect contemporary usage. But often new translations are undertaken either because no translation of a chosen Shakespeare text into the language in question has previously been attempted and the version in this project is the first in that language, or because the existing translations are too dated in diction, idiom or style to be useful as starting point.
With Prof Chris Thurman as one of the project principals, the undertaking is uniquely positioned to deliver on its aims of multilingualism and creative reimagining. As founding director of Wits University’s Tsikinya-Chaka Centre, leading its pioneering work on Shakespeare translations into South African and other African languages, his knowledge of existing translations of these texts is encyclopaedic, and his reach into the network of specialised linguistic talent to be drawn on for the commissioning of the new translations often required is unrivalled.
Tsikinya-Chaka Centre >