The Okavango Macbeth

Imagine an operatic version of the Scottish Play set amongst an African baboon troop and you’ll have a vague idea of what ‘The Okavango Macbeth’ is like. Written by Alexander McCall Smith, creator of the Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency, the world premiere of the piece took place in 2009 in a repurposed garage in Botswana with a largely local amateur cast. The vision of McCall Smith and composer Tom Cunningham was a musical which could be performed by a cast more familiar with African music than Western opera. It must have been a striking performance, with the humble African setting and local singers adding new meaning and poignancy to the Bard’s dark tale.

With this precedent, the Edinburgh Studio Opera set themselves quite a challenge, staging the piece as their Fringe offering this year. A bit too much of a challenge, in fact. The opening jungle scene is clearly meant to evoke Africa’s vibrant, teeming wildlife, but the mass of actors on stage quickly becomes simple overcrowding. The set is composed of precariously-balanced chairs and tables; these look amateurish and clutter up the stage, making it even harder to see what is going on. Almost everything on stage is boring beige or black, excepting the baboon face paint.

On the whole, there’s a lot of energy on stage, but the acting itself is clumsy and unconvincing. One of McCall Smith’s additions to the Bard’s tale is the three primatologists who are observing the unfolding chaos among the baboon population. The trio’s attempt to humour the audience by continually being frightened by the baboons they are observing prove wince-inducing rather than funny. There are elements of cleverness in the little animal impressions, like the three-person giraffe bending down to the floor to drink. But there’s also an odd owl creature, which irritatingly floats across the stage every now and again, presumably to indicate nightfall.

There are intrinsic problems with the piece itself. McCall Smith’s idea of setting this vicious tale in the animal world has the potential to produce a powerful show. Sadly, though, the score is bland and repetitive; all the songs sound remarkably similar, with a few different words and slight emotional variations. Nothing of Shakespeare’s poetry remains, except the bare bones of the story. The lyrics, which lead us through this baboon Macbeth, are unimaginative and often mind-numbingly awful. One particularly cringe-worthy number repeats ‘watching is waiting, waiting is watching…’, as the superfluous trio of primatologists observe Macbeth’s troop.

One classic line of the original did make it into this musical: ‘But for all her faults she was a creature of this place.’ This show is a creature of the Edinburgh Studio Opera and if there is one thing which cannot be faulted, it is the singing talent on stage. Perhaps this performance would work better if ESO cut most of the acting and focused on what they do best.

Since you’re here…

… we have a small favour to ask. We don't want your money to support a hack's bar bill at Abattoir, but if you have a pound or two spare, we really encourage you to support a good cause. If this review has either helped you discover a gem or avoid a turkey, consider doing some good that will really make a difference.

You can donate to the charity of your choice, but if you're looking for inspiration, there are three charities we really like.

Mama Biashara
Kate Copstick’s charity, Mama Biashara, works with the poorest and most marginalised people in Kenya. They give grants to set up small, sustainable businesses that bring financial independence and security. That five quid you spend on a large glass of House White? They can save someone’s life with that. And the money for a pair of Air Jordans? Will take four women and their fifteen children away from a man who is raping them and into a new life with a moneymaking business for Mum and happiness for the kids.
Donate to Mama Biashara now

Theatre MAD
The Make A Difference Trust fights HIV & AIDS one stage at a time. Their UK and International grant-making strategy is based on five criteria that raise awareness, educate, and provide care and support for the most vulnerable in society. A host of fundraising events, including Bucket Collections, Late Night Cabarets, West End Eurovision, West End Bares and A West End Christmas continue to raise funds for projects both in the UK and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Donate to Theatre MAD now

Acting For Others
Acting for Others provides financial and emotional support to all theatre workers in times of need through the 14 member charities. During the COVID-19 crisis Acting for Others have raised over £1.7m to support theatre workers affected by the pandemic.
Donate to Acting For Others now


The Blurb

ESO returns with The Okavango Macbeth. Set in the Botswana Okavango Delta, it tells a story of the struggle for power among competing baboons in their matriarchal society. ‘… meticulously directed’ ***** ( on King Arthur).

Most Popular See More

The Phantom of the Opera

From £27.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Moulin Rouge! The Musical

From £32.00

More Info

Find Tickets

The Book of Mormon

From £24.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Mamma Mia!

From £18.00

More Info

Find Tickets


From £21.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Frozen the Musical

From £36.00

More Info

Find Tickets