Episode 6

Published on:

20th Dec 2023

McArthur and Kate (Theatre and International collaboration)

McArthur Matukuta is the Exectutive Director of Solomonic Peacock Theatre in Malawi and Kate Stafford is a theatre director in the UK, who has spent several years making work in Malawi. Hazel and Chimzy want to find out about their connection and what international theatre collaborations could look like between Malawi and Scotland.

"We are able to tell our own stories in our own way. Because this is what I saw when I travelled in different countries. Artists are able to tell their stories in their traditional way... it has also helped us telling a story in a Malawian way, but of international standard."

Here are some links to the work of Solomonic Peacock:






It's the only international theatre festival in Malawi and the only festival which is livestreamed on Facebook.


Pamtondo is a play, telling a story in a particularly malawian way.


Here's a crowdfunder for the Easter Festival:


And one to support some volunteers to go there

The Tempest toured the UK in 2017 with a company of 10, 4 from Malawi: Joshua Bhima and Robert Magasa played Ariel; Stanley Mambo played Caliban and Ben Michael Mankhamba was one of the two musician/composers. Caliban’s lines were all in Chichewa with surtitles, and Ariel spoke in English when speaking to Prospero (the Island’s coloniser) and Chichewa when speaking to each other or Caliban. Miranda spoke English with some Chichewa phrases (when speaking to Caliban).



Hello, I'm Chimzy , I'm Hazel, and this is the People to People podcast, where we talk about partnerships between Scotland, where I'm from, and Malawi, where I'm from. So it's been a little while. How are you doing Chimsy? Yeah, it's, it's been, it's been a long time and we have a really exciting episode today, don't we?

I really enjoyed our conversation. Yeah. Yeah. So did I. So, I went recently to the Scotland Malawi Partnership AGM and I found lots of interesting people there to talk to. So hopefully over the next few months we can expect a little flurry of new episodes. But one of the people I met was Kate Stafford.

Kate has worked on many collaborations with Malawian artists here and in Malawi. And I mentioned that I'd be really keen to make a podcast about theatre in Malawi. That's something that we talked about before, isn't it Chimsey? Yeah, but also for you, you do a lot of theatre stuff here in Scotland. I do. I, I may have mentioned it in the interview, couldn't keep quiet.

But yeah, I'd, I'd said to Kate, Oh, I'd be really interested in that. So she helped us set up this conversation with MacArthur from Solomonic Peacock Theatre Company in Malawi. And here is a little clip of a theatre show called Pamtondo. You know what? You did a great job. That's fine. Chimsy, just quickly, what is Pamtondo?

Pamtondo is It's the traditional tool used in Malawi to grind maize. Okay, so I've seen that in the clip. So there's like a big bowl with a kind of stick that you Yeah, so a lot of people use that if you don't have a maize mill close by. If you're going to make flour the traditional way, that's how you would do it.

Using a pumptuando. Don't you know that it's gender equality? Gender equality? In this house? No sense.

And who has brainwashed you? Nobody has brainwashed her.

So MacArthur has visited Glasgow Conservatoire and the Edinburgh Festival, and he's an advocate for international collaboration in Malawi. He's also very involved in the development of the theater scene in Malawi. So quite frankly. A really great person to speak to. It touches on quite a lot of the things that we've been thinking about, doesn't it, like international collaboration, why we collaborate, what it brings and all of the challenges that come with it.

And I guess also who, whose narrative we're presenting. It was very interesting to speak about something that you would not expect from Malawi.

I'm in Plant, we call it Jiri Museum, the first museum in Malawi, myself and my, my theater company. We'll be celebrating like, uh, 25 years, uh, in the theatre industry by next year. And actually, I have also been the president for National Theatre Association for about three to four years in the past. Though the industry is not yet fully fledged or fully formed that we have got a formal industry.

has been a change the early:

But after the closure of the French Casual Center, theater has been affected. We have minimized commercial performances. The traveling theater we have minimized. What I'm doing most is to conduct community theater where we are doing a lot of awareness projects. I do much of theater of education, where I train the young ones and the children about the theater.

l in Malawi. We started it in:

And a lot of what I do is community theatre and going round schools. Why do you think this community theatre is important? It's very important in two aspects. The first one is we are assisting the development of the nation. It's where we talk of national issues or social issues. So we come up with a place where we go into the community and assist the community.

So when the government has got different issues, they want to Go out on the disseminate information to the communities. Most of the times they use a theater like when we have the elections, they use much of theater. The other aspect is in Malawi. We don't have the National Arts Council currently, and we don't have government supporting the arts industry in general, and also the corporate world.

The support is also minimal. So this is the way we, we survive because it's where we raise resources to run our theatre campaigns. So this is how, uh, uh, community theatre is very important to us. So number one, helping the development of the nation, secondly, the source of income for our theatre campaigns.

So that's what we do. I wanted to respond to that because I just find that It's so much in common with Scottish theatre roots that I was taught and that I understand. Particularly, you know, the political, the going around communities, the discussing information. So it's really interesting to hear that.

But Kate, I want to bring you into this conversation. So it's been, it's been really interesting to be back in touch with MacArthur again, after all this time. MacArthur and I know each other from years ago when I heard him talking about the French Cultural Centre, when that was the hub of theatre in Malawi.

It was a big stage which was part of the French Embassy in Blantyre. And the French pulled out of Malawi to direct all the operations for a group of countries and went to, I think it was Zimbabwe, correct me if I'm wrong. It might've been Zambia, but I think it was Zimbabwe. So they closed that building down and that building was, was reverted to the Malawi government.

rehouse, and unfortunately in:

I have to say, it's brilliant to see the Easter Theatre Festival happening, because in spite of there being no funding, we're getting international artists It's visiting Malawi and there is a sort of cross fertilization of art going on, which I think is fantastic. And it's just the grassroots artists just keeping on in spite of anything.

Amazing. So excited to hear your passion about art. What inspires you about a partnership with Cape? It's my principle ever since I started the professional work. My vision has been expanding the Malawian arts to international platforms. I'll give this example, like in Malawi, Solomonic is a theatre company which has travelled to many countries.

And when I was going to all those countries, what I was looking at, it's How can people work together across the globe? So I was finding that you go there, you find there is a collaboration between, let's say, South Africa and, go down to South Africa and Germany. So it was inspiring me that this is what we are lacking in Malawi.

We need to find this initiative to happen in Malawi. And also, here in Malawi, we are a self taught artist. We don't have, like, universities or colleges where you can go and learn art. When you collaborate, you learn something from your colleague. You expand or you grow your territory in terms of Uh, your theatrical skills or your artistic skills.

So this is what has inspired me all these years. If it was the relish, it's like you are putting spices in your relish so that it can really taste good. This is a question for the both of you. You mentioned you want to expand Malawian arts internationally. Have there been any challenges with that? I mean, one of them you said was the fact that there's no schools for people to actually train in the arts.

ns. The last one I did was in:

We had enough money to bring those four artists over to work with six UK artists, musicians, dancers and actors. Um, the dancers came from Malawi, um, to do a tour. of England. It didn't go up to Scotland because it was Arts Council England. That, for me, is ridiculous. The Arts Council England and the Creative Scotland are separate entities.

So when I said, okay, we've got this money, shall I bring it to Scotland? They said, well, we can't cover the Scottish performances. We got as far as Newcastle, but we weren't able to go any further north into Scotland, even though I knew that because of the interest in all things Malawi in Scotland, we would have had With Creative Scotland now cutting back so much on the money that's available, it's becoming more and more difficult to get that kind of funding to do these intercultural collaborations.

And I do think they're important. It's important to bring artists to different countries, not to just collaborate over Zoom or whatever. Um, so it would be great to bring Solomonic Peacocks here, but with no funding in Malawi and Creative Scotland clamping down so much, it's very hard to think of how we're going to be able to Let me also just say, I don't know what Katie has said.

Collaborations, they are very good, but we know the challenges of money is another factor. We have got tangible things which has come out from these collaborations. One is the establishment of Easter Theatre Festival. Because when I always travel, we find that we are performing in a festival. But in Malawi, we don't have a festival.

It's when we decided to come up with the Easter Theatre Festival. So that we should have something annually, which is specific for theatre. Yes, we have got other festivals in Malawi, but they are dominated by music. So we decided to come up with the Easter Theatre Festival for theatre artists. Kate, some of the plays which she has watched.

It's totally different to our kind of presentation of the plays which we are doing nowadays. We are able to tell our own stories in our own way. Because this is what I saw when I traveled in different countries. Artists are able to tell their stories in their traditional way. If you see the Malawian theater in the past, it was like Afrofusion, like something like Afro Western.

That, that was it. The accent, you have the Malawian accent, the African accent. But the way you are presenting your production, it was like you are in the But, uh, from there, I also learned when I go to Europe, we have got the style of presenting the place. When I go to South Africa, I could see something. So that, it has also helped us telling a story in a Malawian way, but of international standard.

The collaboration which we have, we have, we have been doing, what we have learned, make it in a way that people, they should see a Malawian cultural element. It makes me so happy, um, hearing you say you want to create art that is Malawian and not for Western viewership. I think sometimes that can be at the forefront of anything that like third world countries do.

It's like to please people in the global North, but it's really nice to hear that, you know, it's Malawian. And I guess, you know, if people don't like it, then, then that's fine. I want to know what it looks like though. I want to know what it is to tell a Malawian story in a Malawian way. Well, my answer to that there, Hazel, is get yourself over to Malawi, to Blantyre in March, and go and see some of the shows that Solomonics and other people are putting on as they use the theatre festival, and you'll see what Malawian theatre is.

So, um, you know, I'm really looking forward to seeing where it's at at the moment. I always did what MacArthur was talking about, an international collaboration, but we always really wanted to lead from the fact that most of the artists, when I was in Malawi, all my artists were Malawian, so I tried to lead with that, but the material we used was always, British.

So there was always an element of fusion. And, uh, interestingly, as MacArthur was saying, when I first started out, it was very much through my filter. So we were doing it very, very, um, westernized, um, in terms of how it was produced. But then after I'd been there a couple of years, I realized that all my audiences.

I mean, my audience was probably 1 percent expat white and 99 percent Malawian audiences. So what they wanted to see was they wanted to see themselves on stage. So I was trying to present that I wouldn't for any. any way, um, claim that I achieved it, but I think it's a journey that has been started and is moving on.

And it's absolutely wonderful to see Malawian artists saying, no, no, that's not the way we're going to do it. This is our culture. This is how we are going to express ourselves. That's really good to hear. I love when, you know, you give someone a voice, but it's for them to actually speak on it, and not in a way where it's like, I'm giving you this opportunity, however, this is how I want everything to be conducted.

the narrative is still not in their hands. It's still in someone else's. I can't wait to see it in at Easter. And I would suggest you, you guys get yourself some flights and get over there, stay at a nice lodge and take in loads of nice theater and then report it back and get, get some, some interest in it from, from Scotland.

So you put me a bit on the spot there, Kate, because I think we talked at the Scotland Malawi partnership gathering about the fact that I won't fly at the moment, because I'm so concerned about the environment and the impact that my actions are going to have as somebody who is from quite a wealthy community.

Most of my friends fly on holiday. I choose not to because I have a real concern about some of the most vulnerable communities in the world, and that includes a lot of people in Malawi. But for the first time, I think having this conversation because arts and collaboration and international collaboration is so incredibly dear to me and something that I do think is important.

You're tugging my heartstrings. I have to say, I know it's like chimpanzees. Look, she's shocked. I know. It makes me think, if we had just a small amount of carbon to spend on flights, what would be the best thing? Would it be for me, as to go as a tourist to Malawi, just so I can see some incredible theatre?

Or would it be for some Malawians to come? Over for something like the Edinburgh Festival where you'd get an audience every night for the whole month of August and you'd reach hundreds and hundreds of people. Would it be a longer term thing where you go and you live somewhere for like quite a long time and you have this incredible collaboration that shapes the whole voice of your career for the rest of your life?

And you come back and you bring that and you tell everybody about it. You know, how can we have something that's actually meaningful? I think you're right. We're all very worried about that, but there's a sort of greater thing in a way. Yes, we shouldn't be taking flights if there's any other option, but we should also be trying to bring the world together.

Of course, we shouldn't be traveling as much as we are for holidays and that sort of thing. We shouldn't be doing that, but in order to bring more global understanding, that's where the end of wars is going to happen. I have one question. Uh, for MacArthur. You mentioned earlier about social welfare for artists.

Can you explain a little bit more about that? At first, there was literally, literally nothing for support to an artist once he dies or once he is, or she is incapacitated in terms of like, Uh, old age or in terms of sickness, nothing was being supported to that artist by the government. The former minister of arts, he is also an artist, Dr.

Michael Ousse. He's the one who came up with that suggestion. There was an agreement that for this fund to grow, the artists themselves, they should contribute something yearly. An artist has to contribute 5, 000 days. If you don't contribute, you don't benefit. MacArthur, you mentioned that music is at the forefront of the arts.

Do you know why exactly that is? And why other acts are not really on the same level as music? One, there was a period where we lost a lot of long time actors. So they died. The other thing, it's um Music in Malawi, you can play it anywhere, in a bottle store, in what, shabin, what we call sound pollution, it's played everywhere, it's everywhere.

The other thing, the corporate society of Malawi, they did not focus much on the They just focus too much on the music. Well, that's true here as well in the West. People will pay lots of money to go and see their favourite music artist. You know, they'll pay 150 to go and see something at a big stadium.

And then when you ask them to come to the theatre for 15 pounds. They say, what? That's too expensive. And it's annoying, but that is the way it is. It's, it's a more universal art form, somehow music than theater. And I don't know how to put that right. But the other interesting thing about, if you want to talk about what's different in Malawi, what I noticed was spoken word poetry, very big in Malawi, but you know, you'll get lots of people coming to poetry evenings.

They see it as being really quite radical. It's brilliant in Malawi. It's much more in your face spoken word, say what you think, political, which I think is brilliant.

Chimsey MacArthur has, while we're speaking, sent me a WhatsApp. And he's asked about a GoFundMe that he's supporting, so it looks like it's a couple of people who are trying to come to the festival from Germany. So we will share a link to that in our show notes. Okay. I've watched loads of his clips now on YouTube, I've got quite down a rabbit hole to be honest.

Watching them perform just to everyone in the village outdoors, I thought it was really cool. It's just happening. It's just part of culture. I don't think success has to mean international recognition. I agree, actually. And I think that we could take a lesson from that in Scotland. It's just about being able to express yourself and say what you want and have that communication.

With audiences. And I loved, I watched some of the Easter festival and found some of the spoken word stuff online. And it's really cool that I can just sit and really imagine being there. You know, the camera pans around the room and you get a little peek at the audience as well as the stage. And you can imagine being there.

Well, I'm not doing anything this weekend, so that's what I might do. Yeah, why not? So in our show notes, there's a link to information about the Easter Theatre Festival and several links to the work of Solomonic Peacock. So there's also a link to a trailer for Kate's production of The Tempest, which looks awesome.

The original music is by Ben Mankamba and Frederick Rich. So we love it when you get in touch with your ideas for the podcast. Please email us at topeoplepod@ gmail. com. This podcast is independently produced by us, Chimzy Dorey and Hazel Darwin-Clements, but is supported by the Scotland Malawi Partnership.

I am a fool to weep at what I am glad of. Tender horse. Here's a lovely cat. Move out of the way. Brains at my command have waked their keepers. Post and let them forth by my no broken path.

That's right.

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About the Podcast

People to People podcast
Exploring the Unique Partnership between Scotland and Malawi
We're exploring International Partnerships by having People to People conversations. As a Scot and a Malawian, we're particularly looking at the friendship between Scotland and Malawi. We chat about climate justice, gender, equality, COVID, privilege, history, farming and the future, oh... and MANGOES! Everyone wants to tell us how good Mangoes taste in Malawi. An important and complicated conversation filled with laughter, respect and warm-hearted love.

How can you have an equal partnership when one country is so rich and the other is so poor? If we recognise our privilege- what happens next? What does Restorative Climate Justice actually mean? Can you really grow all your family needs in a quarter acre? How has the pandemic changed our partnerships? How can friendship help protect the Lillian's Lovebird?

We want to include as many people as possible in the conversation.
Email: peopletopeoplepod@gmail.com

**Hosted and produced by Chimzy Dorey and Hazel Darwin-Clements**
Supported by the Scotland Malawi Partnership.

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