King RichardIII playing at Maynardville

In the same way that meeting friends each week in Bascule Whisky, Wine and Cocktail Bar has become something of a tradition, so has an annual picnic in the park before a Shakespeare play at Maynardville open-air theatre in Wynberg.

Most of the audience gather in the park with picnic baskets brimming and bottles of wine or bubbly to share amongst friends. Blankets and cushions are a must, to be used later in the theatre as the evening cools off and to soften the hard plastic chairs that make up the 720 seat playhouse.

Immensely tall trees and bamboo thickets create a naturally sheltered amphitheatre around the stage and the graduated slope means everyone has a clear view. Even though this year’s choice of Shakespeare play is a dark story about the truly wicked King Richard III, not even the multiple murders carried out to clear Richard’s path to the English throne, could daunt our enjoyment of the unique starlit atmosphere that is so special to Maynardville.  An interval allows a stretch of the legs, and the queue for coffee or hot chocolate and lavatories moves quickly.

I wonder if next year the Director may revisit one of Shakespeare’s more light-hearted plays, like Midsummer Night’s Dream or Twelfth Night, which prove so popular that every performance is packed. Not so this year, with half the seats empty and even a Groupon offer to boost attendance. It’s not because it’s a poor play – on the contrary, it’s brilliantly acted and you’ll recognise some famous South African actors – it’s just that this play is not familiar to many people and reflects brutal aspects of our own society, which we don’t necessarily want to confront during our pleasure time.

Would I recommend it? Yes – Maynardville has never put on a bad Shakespeare play and as long as you read a summary of the Tragedy of King Richard III before you go, you’ll understand what’s going on and enjoy the acting.

Have you seen this play? What did you think?

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