Theatre: Umabatha: the Zulu Macbeth Globe Theatre, London

In Tom Stoppard's Dogg's Hamlet, the audience is confronted with a group of actors apparently speaking English - you see them building a stage, shouting "Plank", "Slab" and "Block" to one another, and it seems obvious that these are just ordinary words to describe the objects they are using. But it turns out that they are speaking an entirely new and foreign language that happens to be composed of English words. In this language "Plank" actually means "Ready", "Slab" means "OK" and "Block" means "Next". Some meanings are inverted entirely: a schoolboy's respectful "Good day, sir" comes out as "Useless git."

Something similar happens when you watch Shakespeare performed in a foreign language, although in this case it's not the words but the events and characters that seem misleadingly familiar. Umabatha, for instance, seems for the most part like a straight translation of Macbeth into Zulu terms. In Welcome Msoni's version, Macbeth becomes Mabatha, Macduff is Mafudu, Banquo is Bhangane; they wear animal skins, fight with spears and shields, live in kraals rather than castles, and the invading army by which Mabatha is finally defeated comes from Swaziland. Nudged along by helpful surtitles - just enough to keep you posted without distracting too much from the action - it's no trouble to follow the plot, and there are a number of moments when, although the language is unfamiliar, gesture and expression make it clear exactly what is being said: when Mabatha (having first gee'd himself up with what looks like a snort of cocaine) reaches for an invisible dagger, for instance, or when his wife, Kamadonsela, mimes tearing a child from her breast and dashing its brains out.

But, at other points, you can't help wondering whether things are really so straightforward. When the murderers set out to kill Banquo, is their exaggeratedly stealthy walk meant as a joke - it certainly raised a laugh on Monday evening - or is it simply a formalised expression of caution and guilt? Mabatha himself, in Thabani Patrick Tshanini's full-throttle performance, sometimes comes across as a clownish figure: is his discomfort meant to be amusing? In this world, do we assume that Bhangane's ghost is literally there, or is it an expression of Mabatha's guilt? Similar questions arise from any Macbeth; in this case, we have no way of answering them.

In some ways, Umabatha is more "authentic" than any modern Macbeth - Msoni and his athletic, dynamic cast manage to suggest vividly a warrior society, in which fighting prowess is not simply an admirable but incidental attribute, it is central to a man's identity. Not much modern British Shakespeare manages to integrate music and dance with the drama in the easy, thrilling way that this play does. In the end, though, it's not as an African take on Macbeth that you want to see it, but as an original play in its own right, which happens to have a rather similar plot. And on that level, in case you were wondering, it is unfailingly gripping and exciting, a triumph both for Msoni and for Mark Rylance's Globe.

Continues at the Globe to Sat (0171-401 9919)

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam