The original play
The full title of the play is The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice. Also referred to as Othello, or The Moor of Venice or simply as Othello. Possibly written in 1603 or 1604, and first performed in 1604, the play was apparently based on Un Capitano Moro ("A Moorish Captain"), a short story first published in 1565, written by Cinthio, a disciple of Boccaccio.
Othello and South Africa
In the early 19th century this was the most popular Shakespeare play in Cape Town, at least 15 performances being done between 1800 and 1864. This includes one travesty and three productions by a Dutch amateur groups Door Yver Bloeit de Kunst and Vlyt en Kunst, in Dutch translation. However, most probably because of its racial overtones, the play was seldom performed in the later 19th and most of the 20th centuries, though the play was regularly studied by University students.
It resurfaced in the later part of the 20th century, influenced by the eventual release of the 1965 Laurence Olivier film in the 1970s and the gradual relaxing of the Apartheid regulations in the 1980s. In 1972 a provocative adaptation, Othello Slegs Blankes was done at the Space Theatre (without an "Othello"), and in 1975 an Afrikaans version of the play with Othello played in black-face. The first black Othello in the country was played by John Kani in a landmark production directed for the Market Theatre by Janet Suzman in 1986.
The play and its plot have taken many forms over the years, including a variety of films, operas, ballets, and other stage presentations. (For a list of international translations and adaptations, see for example the Wikipedia entry on the play.)
Below we list adaptations created and/or performed in South Africa.
South African translations and/or adaptations of the text
The play has been translated into a number of South African languages, and a few adaptations have been performed:
Translations done and/or used in South Africa
Also found as Othello, of De Moor (translated by an unknown author).
Adaptations done and/or used in South Africa
For more details of the South African performances of these adaptations of the play, see the full list of performances below.
Othello Travestie by Maurice G. Dowling:
This is described as "an operatic burlesque burletta", first performed at the Liver Theatre, Liverpool in March 1834 and later at the Strand Theatre London. Published in London by Thomas Hailes Lacy, 1834. Performed in Cape Town, on 13 May, 1842.
Othello, dubbed a "musical extravaganza", by an unknown author (possibly the text by Dowling?) was performed by the in Cape Town on 7 March, 1861 by the Cape Town and Royal Alfred Dramatic Club.
Othello Slegs Blankes ("Othello For Whites Only"):
This is an adaptation by Donald Howarth for the Space Theatre Cape Town in 1972. The play is performed without the black character of Othello appearing on stage. The play text is unpublished , but the original playscript is held by NELM (Collection: SIMON, Barney]: 1995. 11. 1. 48).
List of South African productions
1818: A performance in the African Theatre, Cape Town by the Gentlemen Amateurs in conjunction with Mr Cooke and his ladies, on 24 October, 1818; as a benefit for the Liverpool actress Miss Williams. The afterpiece was The Poor Soldier (O'Keeffe).
1829: Performed in English as Othello, or The Moor of Venice in the African Theatre, Cape Town, on 9 December, with as afterpiece The Wags of Windsor (Colman Jr), by the visiting professional actor H. Booth, supported by a number of local amateurs. Booth not only appeared in the roles of "Othello" and "Looney Mactmolter" in the afterpiece, but also sang a song as interlude.
1834: Performed in English, under the patronage of the Governor, as Othello, or The Moor of Venice by the Private Amateur Company (a civil society), in the Amateur Theatre (Liefhebbery Toneel) on 20 August, with A Day after the Fair (Somerset) as afterpiece.
1836: Performed in Dutch as Othello, of De Jaloersche Zwart ("Othello, or The Jealous Black") by Vlyt en Kunst in the Liefhebbery Toneel (Hope Street Theatre)in Cape Town on 19 August 1837, directed by C.E. Boniface. The rest of the programme consisted of De Logen om Best Wil (Garrick). The production appears to have been successful, but did elicit some criticism from a writer called "Philemon" who protested at the gruesome and immoral nature of the play.
1837: Performed in Dutch as Othello, of De Moor van Venetien by Vlyt en Kunst in the Liefhebbery Toneel (Hope Street Theatre) in Cape Town on 19 August 1837, directed by C.E. Boniface. The rest of the programme consisted of Dirk Menschenschrik (Holberg) and some tricks by "een Groote Baviaan" as afterpiece. The musical society De Getrouwheid assisted in the evening's entertainment.
1842: Othello Travestie (Dowling) performed by the Garrison Players in the Garrison Theatre, Cape Town, on 13 May, as an afterpiece to The Irish Attorney (Bernard). The performers included Mr Wellesley ("The Moor"), Mr D. M'Donald ("Desdemona") and Mr Priestly ("Iago"). Repeated on the 19th May apparently.
1852: Performed in Cape Town by members of the Garrison Players, including Captain Hall and Lieutenant Johnson, helped by local English amateurs, on 24 March, 1852, with as afterpiece Charles the Second, or The Merry Monarch (Payne). The performance was part of three evenings done "for the benefit of the unfortunate soldiers who persished in H.M.Steamer Birkenhead". Unfortunately it appears that the three performances had apparently not served their intended purpose, as they eventually ran at a loss of £30.
1862: Scene II, Act III was produced in the Grahamstown Garrison Theatre on 27 January by the Non-commissioned Officers of the North Lincolnshire Regiment of Foot, with a cast consisting of Cast: T. H. Smith Esq. (Othello), Sergeant J. Lydon (Iago), Sergeant T. M'Kay (Cassio), Corporal J. Davies (Deademona), Private J. M'Kechnie (Emilia). Also played was Amoroso, King of Little Britain (Planché). (For more on contemporary responses to the performances, see the entry on the North Lincolnshire Regiment of Foot)
1895: Performed and taken on tour by W.J. Holloway, opening in Johannesburg on December 26th.
1946: Produced by Frank Hammerton for the Cape Town Repertory Theatre Society at the Little Theatre. With E. Clifford Jones, Dan Bosman, Hazel Casson, Pietro Nolte, Mary Dean, Rosa Lussman, Dan Bosman, Frank Hammerton.
1970: Directed by Leonard Schach at Maynardville starring Bernard Brown, Louis Burke, Cecilia Sonnenberg, Jeanne Wennberg, Michael Drin, Don Maguire, Christopher Hale, Geoffrey Frederick, Richard Poore, Ronald Fenton, Kerry Marsh. Decor by Pamela Lewis, costumes by Jennifer Craig.
1972: Othello Slegs Blankes produced at The Space (Cape Town) in 1972. The text was adapted, written and directed by Donald Howarth, and featured John Badenhorst, Limpie Basson, Peter Benedix, Mavourneen Bryceland, Yvonne Bryceland, Ben Dekker, Val Donald, Anthony Flesch, Keith Grenville, David Haynes, John Kennedy, Charles Kidd, Charles Kinsman, Icky Kurgan, Michael McGovern, Paul Slabolepszy, Michael Swinton, David Nissen, Harry Victor. Costumes by Aubrey Couling, lighting by Brian Astbury, music by David Nissen and stage management by Bee Berman.
1975: Shortly after the release of the 1965 Laurence Olivier film in South Africa in the 1970s, PACT produced an Afrikaans version, in a translation by Anna S. Pohl. Breytenbach Theatre and Alexander Theatre. The production featured Louis van Niekerk in the lead role in black-face, Sandra Prinsloo as Desdemona and Marius Weyers as Iago, Tobie Cronjé also included in the cast, and was directed by Francois Swart.
1977: Presented by KRUIK Toneel at the Nico Malan Theatre, opening 29 January. The Pohl Afrikaans translation was used, direction by Pieter Fourie, decor, costumes and lighting by Raimond Schoop. The cast included Marius Weyers (Othello), Pieter Geldenhuys, Johan Esterhuizen, Cobus Rossouw(on loan from SWAPAC), Mees Xteen, Johan Botha, Marko van der Colff, James Blanckenberg, Neels Coetzee, Liz Dick (Desdemona), Sandra Ferreira, Tarina Kleyn, Chris Truter, Henry Hopkins, Fitz Morley, Willem de la Querra, Billy de la Querra, Martin Crous.
1982: Maynardville, opening 8 January 1982 directed by Roy Sargeant for CAPAB with Robert Stephens as Othello, Richard Grant as Cassio and Neil McCarthy as Montano, also starring Bobby Heaney (Roderigo), Michael Richard (Iago), Hugh Rouse (Brabantio), Marko van der Colff (Duke), James Irwin (Gratiano), John Maytham (a senator), Louise Saint-Claire (Desdemona), Fiona Ramsay (Emilia), Janet Buckland (Bianca) and Roger Dwyer (Lodovico). Lighting by Brian Kennedy, decor and costumes by Dicky Longhurst, music by Michael Tuffin. Henry Goodman was the fight director.
1986: The first black Othello in the country was played by John Kani in a landmark production directed for the Market Theatre by Janet Suzman in 1986, with designs by Johan Engels. Iago was superbly played by Richard Haines, while Joanna Weinberg played Desdemona. (A film of this production was shown on BBC television).
2013: The Playbill Theatre Company performed it in Johannesburg's Jo'burg Theatre, directed by Denel Honeyball, with Muntu Ngubane, Aimee Goldsmith, Craig Wainwright, Miles Petzer, Glen Biederman-Pam, Ryan Dittman, John Whitely, Liesel Retief and Nadia Woodward.
2016: Performed 26 January till 23 February at Maynardville, directed by Fred Abrahamse with set and costume designs by Marcel Meyer, lighting design by Faheem Bardien, original music score by Charl-Johan Lingenfelder. The cast included Pope Jerrod as "Othello", Melissa Haiden as "Desdemona", Marcel Meyer as "Iago", Lee-Ann van Rooi as "Emilia", Stephen Jubber as "Cassio", Matthew Baldwin as "Roderigo", Faniswa Yisa as "Bianca", Robin Smith as "Brabantio", Daniel Richards as "Lodovico" and Siya Sikawuti as "Montano" and "The Duke of Venice".
Facsimile Version of Othello, of De Moor van Venetien: Hathi Trust Digital Library
Dowling, M. M. G. (1834). Othello travestie: an operatic burlesque burletta. London: T.H. Lacy. (Facsimile version of the text of the original text, Hathi Trust).
Richard Foulkes. 2006. Performing Shakespeare in the Age of Empire. Cambridge University Press
North Lincoln Sphinx Vol 1, No 11. January 28, 1862.
North Lincoln Sphinx Vol 1, No 12. Febuary 28, 1862.
North Lincoln Sphinx Vol 1, N0 13, July 23, 1862. (Keiskama Hoek)
Brian Astbury. 1979. The Space/Die Ruimte/Indawo. Cape Town: Moira and Azriel Fine.
Donald Inskip, 1977. p 127
Jill Fletcher. 1994. The Story of Theatre in South Africa: A Guide to its History from 1780-1930. Cape Town: Vlaeberg
Trek, 10(13):18, 1945.
Teaterwoordeboek, Vaktaalburo, 1977.
Maynardville theatre programme, 1982.
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