Dante & Mashudu

A theatrical performance that culturally bridges Italy and South Africa

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The origins of Dante & Mashudu

The project of this show was born from the Dante Alighieri Society in Johannesburg at the time of the 700th anniversary of the death of the Italian poet Dante Alighieri, and the idea of creating a theatre show that was going to culturally bridge Italy and South Africa.

Initial questions that arose were:

  • Why and how would Dante be relevant to us in South Africa today?
  • How can we reread and reinterpret Dante in the South African context?

It soon became clear that it was not about bringing Dante to South Africa with a theatre show that would have celebrated his main work, the Divine Comedy; rather it was about recreating and reimagining Dante here in South Africa, letting him spring from South African soil.

The writer of the script came along and put into words all those initial thoughts and ideas; then the Johannesburg School of Mask and Movement Theatre came along and put on stage the writers’ words. The Embassy of Italy in Pretoria, the Consulate General of Italy in Johannesburg, the Consulate of Italy in Cape Town, the Italian Cultural Institute in Pretoria came on board and made possible the realisation of the project in collaboration with the Dante Alighieri Society in Rome, Cape Town and Durban.

Here, Dante is thought and represented by South African creativity in a game of mirrors and cross-references that invite us to reflect in an original way on the past and present history of South Africa and, at the same time, to reread the Divine Comedy with new eyes.

[Overview of the Divine Comedy Universe Structure – Source: Wikipedia]

The plot of the Show

Dante & Mashudu is a play that places Dante in the South African context. It works with the idea that dead poets must guide living poets through the afterlife on a journey of poetic reckoning. It is now Dante’s turn to guide a poet, as he was once guided by Virgil.

Dante comes to meet Mashudu, a South African poet in her Dark Wood. He comes to take her through Inferno and Purgatory where she meets South African characters along the way including Jan Van Riebeeck and John Dube.

Driving the play is the notion that poets need to know where they come from in order to play their role as aids to how a nation understands itself. This means Mashudu has to witness the truth of her context both in terms of the narrative of South Africa as a country and her own personal morality. Mashudu, guided by Dante, reckons with her understanding of South Africa’s past such as with witnessing the punishment of Verwoerd, to reckoning with the country’s present including a domestic abuser.

Mashudu is also faced with the precariousness of her own morality when she meets an old friend in Purgatory. As the play continues, Dante becomes Mashudu’s friend showing that friendship can cross centuries and contexts for poets share their role as poets no matter the society to which they belong.

Both Mashudu and Dante are connected by their unwavering commitment to their own moral imagination. Virgil, as comic relief, completes the picture as narrator, cementing the idea that the poets of the past are deeply connected to the poets of the present.

Ultimately, Dante & Mashudu aims to show the importance of literature to both be grounded in and transcend particularities of time and place. Literature can ultimately open up a new space for us that is both informed by a context but is intrinsically connected to a wider humanity.

Author: Chariklia Martalas
Book available for downalod at UJ Press.


Such an innovative show doesn’t come without its challenges, but the production team were able to perform all the difficult tasks while keeping the morale high.


The beautiful songs performed by the actors complete the experience of this magical atmosphere, moving the audience’s feelings and intensifying the experience, not only with acting but with the sound of their voices.


Every new act needs to be learnt, repeated and interpreted, but for Dante and Mashudu the writers, actors, director, and production had to manage the delicate balance between a classic monument of poetry and this new modern interpretation, respecting the first and challenging the second.

Costumes and Masks

Everything about the show will transport the audience into the classic Divine Comedy universe, with a modern South African twist. Costumes and masks have been hand-crafted to complement this journey.

Interpretation and Characters

Classic meets modern, and with that comes the challenge of interpretation. Starting from the beautiful script of the show, the director, actors and actresses work tirelessly to personify each character, with passion, ensuring an unforgettable experience for the audience.

A show not to be missed

A lot of thought, research, practice and work went into this venture that started 24 months ago. But most of all the main driver has always been passion, and we are sure that you’ll remember this performance and talk about it with friends and family way after you have left the theatre.

Book Your Tickets

Click/Tap the “Tickets” button of your date/city of choice. You’ll be taken to the relative ticketing system for that date, where you can secure your seats.


Atterbury Theatre


Mon 20 March – 19:00

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UJ Arts & Culture


Thu 23 March – 19:00

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Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre

Sat 25 March – 19:00

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In collaboration with

Cape Town

Magnet Theatre


Thu 30 March – 19:00

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Dante in Verona (Italy) by Antonio Cotti

About Dante Alighieri

Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) was an Italian poet, writer, and philosopher, best known for his epic poem “The Divine Comedy”. He is considered one of the most important figures in Italian literature and a master of the medieval world. Dante’s work not only established the Italian language as a literary language but also profoundly influenced Western culture. In “The Divine Comedy,” he takes readers on a journey through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, using vivid and intricate descriptions of the afterlife to comment on the human condition and provide moral teachings. His contributions to literature and philosophy have made him an enduring figure in Italian and world culture. 

Dante shown holding a copy of the Divine Comedy, next to the entrance to Hell, the seven terraces of Mount Purgatory and the city of Florence, with the spheres of Heaven above, in Domenico di Michelino’s 1465 fresco

About the Divine Comedy

“The Divine Comedy” is an epic poem by Dante Alighieri, written in the early 14th century. It tells the story of the author’s journey through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise, guided by the poet Virgil and the woman he loved, Beatrice. Dante uses the poem to explore themes of sin, redemption, and the Christian afterlife, drawing on classical mythology, medieval theology, and political commentary to create a vivid and complex vision of the spiritual realm. “The Divine Comedy” is not only a masterpiece of Italian literature but also a significant contribution to Western culture, with its influence seen in art, music, and literature over the centuries.