Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Classicism as experiment (Blood Horse)

Sonali Pahwa sent me her review of the Iraqi Macbeth, performed at the Cairo International Festival of Experimental Theatre this week. She makes the point that staging old-school classicized Shakespeare in today's Iraq is a pretty daring experiment in its own right. As my teacher Farouk Mustafa once put it: "art for art's sake, for life's sake." Thanks, Sonali!
On entering the Miami (formerly Fuad el-Mohandes) theatre to watch the Iraqi play Hussaan al-damm (Blood Horse), I thought it inevitable that the performance would draw a gathering of Iraqi expatriates. But I didn’t expect to see a large satin Iraqi flag hung at the entrance, signalling that this was no ordinary CIFET event. Inside the theatre, the air echoed with the distinctive ‘j’ and ‘ch’ sounds of Iraqi Arabic as groups of early arrivals waited for the show to begin. The crowd was considerably more elegant than your average intellectuals. Men in suits and women with fulsomely coiffed (and uncovered) hair comported themselves as if at an embassy party. Only the well-loved oudist Nasseer Shamma came in his customary t-shirt.
The Patriotic Troupe for Acting presented a much-abbreviated adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth, seemingly a relevant text through which to comment on the power struggles of contemporary Iraq. It was done in classical fashion, however. The performance was composed of a series of monologues and dialogues, enacted in dramatic lighting, which relied quite straightforwardly on the power of the text. The actors playing the adumbrated cast of Macbeth, Banquo, Lady Macbeth and Macduff all delived their lines with a creditable command of fusha and with visible passion. Perhaps the lone experimental touch was the use of a video screen to stage Macduff’s version of the prophesy of Macbeth’s death. In much of the play, the conception was stagey and the monologues delivered in the textbook style taught at acting schools.
On the other hand, I felt that the insistent classicism of Blood Horse was intended to demonstrate that Iraq did still have theatre, according to cherished old norms that validated Shakespeare in fusha translation as a benchmark of high culture. Those of us who came looking for an experimental performance wanted to see the fragmentation of Iraq dissected on stage, but others in the mostly Iraqi audience cheered the grand Shakespearean performance, perhaps in memory of days when they could go to the theatre in their finery and watch tragedy in measured
cadences rather than the violence now seen on the streets and on television.
At the end of the half-hour performance, audience members who had been clicking away on their digital cameras gave a rousing ovation and rushed onstage to greet the troupe. Many had their pictures taken with the better-known actors and with Shamma. Reporters from the al-Iraqiyya television were among a handful of satellite television crews interviewing the director and cast. There were smiles and hugs all round. At this effusion of national feeling the non-Iraqi critic was something of an outsider. I left, but trust that a party followed and that a good, nostalgic time was had by all.

Friday, August 31, 2007

El Attar at CIFET

The Cairo festival also includes a show called F*** Darwin, Or How I learned to Love Socialism, by Egyptian playwright/director Ahmed El Attar. Unaffiliated with any state-funded theatre in Egypt, El Attar's Temple Independent Theatre Company is producing the show under the banner of Montenegro. It's actually a co-production with a Montenegrin group.

El Attar's postmodern collage, About Othello, Or Who's Afraid of William Shakespeare (co-written with Nevine El Ibiary) was produced in Geneva last November. Earlier (Sept 13-18, 2006) it played to mixed reviews at AUC's Falaki Theatre, the only venue in Cairo that could handle the technical complexities of its 2.5-ton industrial set and many projection screens.

According to El Attar, the whole of F*** Darwin involves a family sitting on a couch, very static, in contrast to the many moving parts of his Othello. When the father speaks to the son, it is with excerpts from Gamal Abdel Nasser speeches. Which is kind of nice.

UPDATE 6/23/11: The link to the About Othello review has gone dead, but I found another one, by Waleed Marzouk for the Daily News Egypt.  Clips of this visually not very interesting show soon to come at MIT's Global Shakespeares archive - stay tuned.

Iraqi Shakespeare at CIFET

This year's Cairo International Festival of Experimental Theatre will include an Iraqi adaptation of Macbeth.

It's called Blood Horse, presented by the National Acting Troupe (more details as I get them):

Shakespeare’s Macbeth is well known among intellectuals and those interested in theatre. However, we’ve presented here a new view of the play, modernizing the events and making them speak of the reality of our world. We deal here with absolute power, presenting it out of space and time, so we see Shakespeare’s personae out of their worlds, flying in spaces of unknown worlds, surrounded by smoke, fear, and darkness, in a tension that harmonizes with the thematic of the show.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Sulayman in Stratford

Sulayman al-Bassam outside the Swan Theatre.

(Using) his kingdom for a horse

Fayez Kazak's Richard rides a pathetic "horse" named Al-Umma. He would ride that Umma into the ground if it would help him stay in power. But as you can see, it only goes around in circles. Onward, Rosinante!

(photo courtesy of Sulayman al-Bassam)

Some photos from Richard III: An Arab Tragedy

The "vulpine" Fayez Kazak as Richard (Emir Gloucester).

"E on drip by day, viagra by night." (Email from Buckingham to the US Ambassador)

"Where are your children?" The amazing Amal Omran as Queen Margaret flogs Queen Elizabeth (Carole Abboud).

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Syrian ambassador to Pakistan Riad Ismat on directing Shakespeare

Syrian playwright, cultural bureaucrat, and diplomat Riad Ismat is now Syrian ambassador to Pakistan.  In this capacity he addressed a local Shakespeare society at Greenwich University.  His (not very well covered) remarks there seem to have been quite general, as befits a diplomat; for more details see his essay هاملت كما اخرجته in his collection شيطان المسرح.