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Zakes Mokae theatre 1960s

it is played with stark passion by... Zaikes Mokae,... with hair-trigger nervous energy
(The Times, 22 Feb June 1963, note Zakes is misspelled)

Mokae had to move to London to escape apartheid and develop his acting career.  The success of Angel Feathers and particularly The Blood Knot helped establish him.  He studied at London's RADA theatre school and also appeared in various Shakespeare, though in the 1960s the roles for black actors in Shakespeare were generally limited to the chorus or such roles.

J.A. Brown  Angel Feathers on the Roof 1962

Performed in Johannesburg and then revived in London in 1962.  Mokae directed.

Bob Leaho writes "Union Artists, a cultural organisation with which I was associated for three years from 1961, quickly realised the importance of this sentiment and organised a school's theatre project whereby theatre was taken to the African schools around Johannesburg, Pretoria and Vereeniging... In 1962 we did Angel Feathers on the Roof by J. A. Brown." from Theatre and the Common Man in Africa, Indiana University Press, No. 19, 1965.


Athol Fugard  The Blood Knot 1963

When the play came to London in 1963 John Berry directed Mokae and Ian Bannen.  It was regularly revived.  Charles Marovitz's review from Plays and Players 1963 criticises Ian Bannen as "achieving the Africaan accent at the expense of the character" and of Mokae "only the passages of solo emotion came off".  The reviewer also manages to misspell the first names of both Mokae and Fugard.

The Bloodknot Ian Bannen Zakes Mokae

The photo is of Ian Bannen and Mokae from Plays and Players April 1963, photo by Lewis Morley.

Fugard Mokae Blood Knot

Shakespeare  Macbeth 1966

Mokae as one of the three witches in a modern dress production with Alec Guinness as Macbeth. He is also credited as Soldier, Murderer, Attendant and Messenger (from BBA wesite here).  It was presented at the Royal Court from 20 Oct 1966 for 32 performances. It was the most successful Royal Court production in the year, despite film actress Simone Signoret having problems with the role of Lady Macbeth.  The director was William Gaskill who staged it in modern dress with almost no scenery and bright lights throughout.  Jomoke Debayo and Femi Euba were the other two witches.  Mokae left in the photo.

Macbeth three witches Zakes Mokae

Reviews of the witches are mixed.

""William Gaskill uses three good African actors for the witches... Doubtless one motive was to keep them in training for Soyinka's Nigerian play later in the year, but there's a more important reason: it's been suggested before that the sinister exoticism of the Scottish heathen might nowadays be best represented by African devil masks. The three faces are, in fact, bare but fringed with straight white hair; and they use inhuman spirit-voices, almost harmonising as if speaking a tonal language. When they summon their apparitions, these are not stage illusions but solid objects, fetishes full of magical power." Undated and unattributed press cutting in the V&A Performance archive's file on the production.

"The witches, two male and one female, are played by coloured actors, as witch-doctors, with high-pitched and incongruous results. Instead of vanishing into air they shamble furril off-stage like so many Highland sheep. The apparitions (glove-puppets for the show of kings) simply raised a laugh".  Peter Lewis, Daily Mail, 21 Oct 1966.

Both reviews come from the BBA Shakespeare website here.  The photo from Plays and Players December 1966.

Shakespeare  The Tempest and Othello 1961-1969

More Shakespeare in London.  In Othello Mokae plays the title role.

Details from Mokae's biography in the programme notes for Fingernails Blue as Flowers.  More information is welcome.

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