Shakespeare's MacBeth meets Africa in Botswana's first opera

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The Independent Culture

Author Alexander McCall Smith has given Shakespeare's Macbeth an African twist blending wildlife and intrigue in Botswana's first ever opera, staged in a restored garage in the capital.

The "Okavango MacBeth" examines the human-like behaviour of baboons under the watchful eye of three primatologists who cannot intervene in a bloody struggle for power which has all the key facets of Shakespeare's play.

An all-local cast performed with simple costumes in the 70-seat No. 1 Ladies Opera House, named after the highly successful detective agency series penned by McCall Smith whose stories brought Botswana to readers around the world.

"As in Shakespeare's MacBeth, the Okavango Macbeth is about power, ambition and being in control," McCall Smith, who flew in from Scotland to attend the premiere last month, told AFP.

The dominant female baboon Lady Macbeth plots with aspiring troop leader Macbeth to kill her husband-to-be and incumbent dominant male Duncan in the tale of political lust and ultimate destruction.

"Though the opera is about baboons, there are some outstanding similarities between the animals and humans, especially when it comes to the way how far some people can go to be in control," said McCall Smith.

The plot, set in Botswana's famously lush Okavango Delta, was inspired when the author met two primatologists studying baboon behaviour when visiting the delta on holiday.

The opera also has several lessons for African leaders who have greedily tried to cling to power, he said.

Lady Macbeth reminds the audience that "no gentleman ever made it to the top" saying the lesson of politics was "oppress the rest and test the best."

Her own eventual downfall, however, is a lesson that this is not always the best approach.

The lessons are played out in Africa's most stable democracy, a diamond-rich nation which has bucked a trend of resource-rich countries to be overtaken by greed, corruption and bad governance.

Botswana's capital Gaborone has a dearth of theatre, and the small opera house hopes to stage at least two musical productions and smaller musical events throughout the year.

"We need optimism and love as humans. We need to send a positive image of Africa and its people and there are many ways through which this can be done and theatre is just one of them," said McCall Smith.