For the next two weeks, the Royal Shakespeare Company and Cape Town’s Baxter Theatre’s joint production of The Tempest is taking up residence at Richmond Theatre.

Sir Antony Sher stars as Prospero in a production that is truly African, both in its politics and visual vibrancy.

And for Sher, who grew up in South Africa during the Apartheid era, performing in the show marks the end of a decade waiting in the wings for Shakespeare’s storm to hit.

“About 10 years ago Janice [Honeyman, the show’s director and Sher’s former school friend] mentioned it to me over a barbecue at my house in London,” he says.

“It was immediately attractive because she talked about doing this African Tempest and how one could solve the hardest part of doing the play – the magic.

“It has just taken us a decade to finally get it done.

“There wouldn’t have been a problem for Shakespeare’s Elizabethan audience because magic was part of their belief system whereas, in the modern western world, magic is about men pulling bunnies out of hats.

“However, in Africa, it is still part of society in a real sense.”

The way the joint-company was able to deal with the magic in The Tempest is an example of what Sher calls the “cultural exchange” that has taken place between the British and South African actors.

“Prospero has to constantly summon spirits and, in a British production, the actors and the director would say, ‘how on earth would you summon up a spirit?’ “That came up in Cape Town in rehearsals – when I asked how you would do it about 10 of the South African actors put their hands up and said: ‘I’ll show you’.”

As well as the evocation of African rituals and dancing, the history and politics of South Africa are also explicitly explored in the production, with the themes of possession of land and slavery pushed to the fore.

Central to this exploration is Prospero’s contrasting relationships with Ariel and Caliban, which renders him something of a contradictory figure.

Sher says: “I love these contradictions because we are all full of them – part of one’s job is to not iron out those complications because the best playwrights make their characters very complex.

“So the fact that, in our very colonial production and I treat one of my slaves very badly but the other one I am virtually in love with – those things sound like contradictions but the colonial world was full of those situations.”

Since the 70s, Sher has been a star of both stage and screen, giving many of his best-known performances for the RSC, including a famous 1984 production of Richard III in which he played the malevolent monarch on crutches.

But it is only now that he feels ready to tackle Prospero, a part he has been offered by the RSC in the past.

He says: “I didn’t feel up to it before.

“It is a part that has some of the great speeches and my whole career has been a journey towards it.

“When I arrived in England as a kid from Cape Town, and went straight into classical theatre with the RSC, I had a sense that I was trespassing somehow.

“I am getting to the point now when I have the feeling that Shakespeare is mine.”

The Tempest, Richmond Theatre, March 19-28, ticket availability is limited: call 0870 060 6651 or visit