eleven characters, two men: kupenga kwa hamlet


Everyone thinks that they know Hamlet, but no one knows it like this. Hamlet is probably the most produced (and most quoted) of Shakespeare’s plays. It is the archetypal tragedy, covering all bases: murder, revenge, potential incest, doomed romance, and of course a climax which results in the demise of pretty much the entire cast.

The latest offering from Two Gents Productions is the clever and captivating Kupenga Kwa Hamlet. The name fittingly translates as ‘the madness of Hamlet’; theirs is certainly a unique take on the Shakespearean classic. Performed in a tiny space with only a musical instrument and a mat as props, this Hamlet adaptation is staged by two orange-jumpsuit clad Zimbabwean actors. Between them, Denton Chikura and Tonderai Munyevu share all the roles, seamlessly flitting between playful and grief stricken. Although the ratio of eleven characters to two actors should be confusing, their energy, alongside a simple hand gesture which indicates a change in character, is more than sufficient. Their performance is both amusing and engaging – most so for the unsuspecting audience members who are dragged up on stage during the infamous play within a play (thank god I didn’t sit on the end of the row). The tiny Ustinov theatre has an intimate feel which effortlessly involves the audience; we become the missing characters, the blanks in the conversation, and part of the play itself.

Somehow, from the doom and gloom of Hamlet’s story, they manage to pull out some humour. As well as their giggle-worthy depictions of a sassy Ophelia, and inspired re-imagining of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as witch doctors, the introduction of African rhythm and song makes theirs a lively production of this tragic tale.

The final scene is handled skilfully; the action being retold by the gravediggers as the actors fall in and out of character, killing each other in succession to the soundtrack of a catchy African song (four days later, it’s still stuck in my head).

The ‘two gents’ perform the first quarto version, cutting the running time down to just under an hour and a half. Whilst losing a lot of the dialogue, this actually makes sitting through Hamlet a much more enjoyable experience! Kupenga Kwa Hamlet is an original and thoroughly enjoyable play; the actors’ faultless and charismatic performance left me wondering why you would ever need more than two actors.

Published in the Arts section of The University of Exeter’s student newspaper, Exeposé, on November 22nd 2010.


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