Out of Africa, coming here – Macbeth as you've never seen it before

AN OPERA version of Macbeth, set among a troop of baboons and written by Alexander McCall Smith for the company he sponsors in Botswana, could soon be coming to Scotland.

The Okavango Macbeth, with a score by Scots composer Tom Cunningham, has just finished a sell-out run at the No.1 Ladies' Opera House. The tin-roofed former garage outside the capital, Gaborone, was established by the author and named after his No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency books, which have been translated into 44 languages and have sold 15 million copies in English alone.

Scottish Opera is now to meet the creators of the opera, to discuss bringing a version to Scotland. Alex Reedijk, the general director of Scottish Opera, said the company was looking at options including adapting The Okavango Macbeth into a touring work or educational programme, as well as the possibility of staging a full-blown production.

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"It certainly has potential. It is very approachable, accessible music," said Mr Reedijk.

This new take on Macbeth follows a troop of baboons through a power struggle after the leader of the pack is killed by a leopard. The behaviour of the baboons is observed by a pair of primatologists – while the behaviour of the primatologists is, in turn, observed and commented on by the baboons.

Representatives of Scottish Opera heard an early version of the opera at a party at Mr McCall Smith's Edinburgh home, which featured a sing-through of the new production.

Mr Reedjik said: "It feels very much like a story Sandy McCall Smith would have written. We are in early stages of talks and looking at ways of making it work over here."

McCall Smith and Mr Cunningham travelled to Botswana this month to watch the first public performance of the work at the country's first opera house.

The author said: "It has been a wonderful success. I am absolutely delighted with what has happened to it in Botswana.

"It went down very well – there were standing ovations at many performances."

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He said he would be delighted if the opera were to come to Scotland. He added: "Tom's score is so very tuneful, it would be lovely to see it have another life."

He said he came up with the idea for the opera after meeting a couple of primatologists on safari in Botswana.

"I realised that status and ambition are cornerstones of baboon society. Then I thought, 'How about setting a version of Macbeth amongst baboons?'."

Mr Cunningham said he would hold preliminary meetings with Scottish Opera this week. Nicholas Ellenbogen, the South African director of The Okavango Macbeth, who specialises in productions portraying animals, will also be involved in the talks.

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