Department of English Publications


Neoliberal Pleasure, Global Responsibility, and the South Sudan Cymbeline

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Book Chapter

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The origin story of the South Sudan Theatre Company's (SSTC) Cymbeline is by now quite well known. It began with a dream: ‘I used to lie in the bush under the stars reading Shakespeare's plays, not thinking about the killing that would take place in the morning’, the South Sudan Culture Minister wrote to the Globe Theatre Tom Bird as the SSTC sought a place in the Globe to Globe Festival, instantly hooking Bird with his ‘compelling and irresistible’ narrative. Cymbeline was assigned, and suddenly the world's newest nation – South Sudan was officially formed in July 2011, six years after the official end of the Sudanese civil war – became responsible for creating a piece of theatre that could speak to new freedom; represent its capacity to make world-class performance at the heart of Western culture; honour its ravaged history; and announce its arrival on the world stage as successful, joyous, invigorating, inspiring.

That's a tall order.

In this chapter, I am going to be deliberately cynical in order to tease out some of the ideological and political challenges that can arise when a show like the SSTC’s Cymbeline appears at a venue like Shakespeare’s Globe. Using a cultural materialist approach, I will argue that the South Sudan Cymbeline – despite its indisputable emotional power for audiences and actors alike, and despite the real potential it holds to help launch a formal theatre culture in South Sudan – functioned at the Globe primarily as a neo-liberal social good. To put this another way: the SSTC’s Cymbeline was anticipated in the London press as a piece of work that staged the triumph of the African spirit over extreme adversity, rather than as a performance event that brought into collision two extremely different experiences of living under a globalized reality (in post-industrial, tourist-centred London; in physically ravaged but oil-rich Sudan).

This chapter explores the South Sudan Cymbeline, part of the Globe 2 Globe Festival in 2011-12, in its material context, reflecting upon the role English cultural powerbrokers played in its making and asking questions about the extent to which the performance both unpicked and reinforced colonial paradigms.

Citation of this paper:

In Bennett, S. & Carson, C. (Eds.). (2013). Shakespeare Beyond English: A Global Experiment. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.