When I was asked to write the programme notes for the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production an African Julius Caesar at Stratford-upon-Avon, I tried to imagine what it would be like. My first image was of African actors struggling to be like Romans speaking quaint 16th century English. It would be admirable but unconvincing. Black skins beneath white masks I had thought. An African Caesar would be almost as awkward as a European Othello.
I could not have been more wrong. It was as if the play was written for those actors. Every gesture and intonation is African. So are the political themes: noble ideals leading good men to bloody murder, the coup against a tyrant followed by the falling out of the conspirators, petty jealousies, sly duplicity and secret plotting. All these themes have haunted African politics for half a century. Here are Idi Amin, Nelson Mandela, Robert Mugabe, Laurent Kabila and Colonel Gaddafi. Ashanti togas and wrap-around lappas make it even more authentically African as if the play was about a recent coup in Africa. An all European cast could only to the play as a re-enactment of ancient history. This African production is a news story.