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By Shola Adenekan


Thursday, October 30, 2008.


There are normally only two clear outcomes in Shakespeare adaptations; they can be incredibly entertaining or hugely boring. Knock Against My Heart, Oladipo Agboluaje's latest offering inspired by The Tempest, managed to buck the trend - entertaining and boring in equal measure.


Its theme is this: A king betrayed, a daughter led by passion and an enemy blinded by fury. The hunger for power and freedom consume Prospero, Miranda and Caliban as the hugely talented Agboluaje took us to the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. The underlying message is the struggle between those who have spiritual connection to an ancestral land, and landowners whose main goal is profit.

The play was developed in a unique collaboration with
Brazil's acclaimed theatre company Nós Do Morro.

Prospero, as in the Tempest, is not only a possessive and protective father to daughter Miranda, but also an archetypal South American feudal lord in the mode of many of Garcia Marquez's characters. "Why do you knock against my heart?" cries Miranda, "when all I ask is that you love me?"


Greed has always been central to land disputes and Prospero seems to have carved himself a power base in the countryside by exploiting the indigenous population. "I am the biggest employer," he boasts. "I brought civilization to this backwater."


But he is not a beneficent figure: he has plans to pump away the river water and, by controlling water, gain control of the land.


He is up against Caliban, a Candomblé priest, at one with the environment and a defender of his people and their land. Prospero is also exploiting his brother with promises of an offer in the business, a vow he never intends to keep. Despondent and seeking revenge, Antonio encourages Miranda to break free from her father's control.


“Two can play that game,” he intones.


Art, they say, imitates life. Brazil, despite the progress being made by the leftist Lula-led government, is still a country where rich landowners are as powerful as they were a century ago. Alongside powerful capitalist conglomerates, landowners continue to oppress the poor in the countryside and in the city. Their despicable acts in the Amazon forest and in the inner-cities from Rio to Sao Paulo are well documented.


At the Birmingham Rep theatre, with the audience on three sides, Roma Patel's stage captures the zeitgeist.


Moreover, Miranda and Caliban are in love. The racial chasm between the poor and the rich in Brazil is captured by the fact that William de Paula as Caliban is black and he is often referred to as “Boy”.


 “The way you dance, the way you move as if you have no care in the world,” Miranda says of her lover.


De Paula is the most vibrant member of this talented cast, although his commendable athleticism and remarkable stage presence were slightly marred by the fact that he played most of his part in Portuguese.


From the onset, Caliban performs some sort of Macumba ritual, and then Prospero and Miranda arrive with arms undulating like bird's wings and using binoculars to spy out the land. A symbolism that was lost on this writer. But the fight over land rendered in Capoeira dance was a joy to behold.


André Santinho as Prospero was believable and both Dani Machancoses (Antonio) and the Anglo-Brazilian Mariana Whitehouse (Miranda) brought their remarkable theatre experience to bear on an overreaching script.


With Knock Against My Heart, Agboluaje has given us yet another imaginative and necessary production but it's a shame that this unique production is light on English dialogue, which can be confusing at times for those who do not know the basic story. 


Production information

By: Oladipo Agboluaje
Composer: Stephen Hudson and Manuel Pinheiro
Management: Theatre Centre in collaboration with Nos do Morro
Cast:Dani Machancoses, William de Paula, Mariana Whitehouse, Andre Santinho.
Director: Michael Judge
Design: Roma Patel
Lighting: Prema Mehta

Repertory, Door Studio Birmingham October 21-23

Contact Manchester November 6- 7

Arts Centre Darlington November 14
Arts Centre Helmsley November 15
Festival Chichester November 18
Redbridge Drama Centre London November 20


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