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
Loading individual letters on to an original Heidelberg printing press
Arts and Entertainment
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

    Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

    Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

    Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
    Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

    Crisp sales are in decline

    As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

    Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

    Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
    Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'