Monday, April 30, 2012

Interview with Ashtar director on "Palestinian" Richard II

Thanks to Marvin Carlson for pointing out this intelligent interview with Iman Aoun, artistic director of the Ashtar theatre group in Palestine, done by Sarah Irving at Electronic Intifada. The conversation gets into issues of language (classical vs. colloquial), interpretation, local reception, and normalization vs. BDS.  Here's one interesting exchange:
SI: Some of the other Shakespeare plays being performed in Arabic during Globe 2 Globe — such as an Iraqi version of Romeo and Juliet set in Baghdad — are very obviously trying to take Shakespeare’s drama and find specific Arab settings for it. Is this what Ashtar has tried to do with Richard II? Or have you left it more to audience to see for itself the modern message that the play might have?

IA: I think we have attempted to do the second. We have tried to be very faithful to the story and to the text itself. We did not add to it, we did not change it. We tried to put it in a modern setting in terms of the costume and flavor, very subtly, you cannot really see one place in our performance, but you could sense, if you want, many places. It is anywhere there is political turmoil, the greed of power. Yes, at some point you could see a Palestinian dress onstage, or you could see people dressed in Middle Eastern outfits, but it does not particularly say that this is happening here in Palestine or in a particular Arab city. We want the audience to concentrate and think.
"Fidelity" discourse aside (and we can easily see that as the counterswing of a certain pendulum), it sounds really worth seeing. One of the peculiarities of the Globe festival is that companies are asked to create these plays essentially on speculation -- for just a few UK performances and maybe one or two back home -- and then hope someone picks it up.  It would be so great if this play, since it appears to be really good and not just ethnographically curious, could tour to the US somewhere. Are you listening, Chicago?

Sunday, April 29, 2012

On "strife"

Do a Google News search today for "Shakespeare" and "strife."  There's nothing wrong with it. I'm just saying.

Shakespeare, meanwhile, according uses the word "strife" 41 times throughout his oeuvre. The concordance results seem to indicate that the better the play, the fewer times "strife" occurs in it.

NYT reviews "R&J in Baghdad" in Baghdad

The New York Times' Baghdad bureau has filed a sympathetic piece on Monadhil Daood's Romeo and Juliet in Baghdad. It's in the "Mideast" section rather than on the arts page (surprise), so don't expect a lot of detail about the scenography or performances, but they do have some interesting interviews with audience members, actors, and Monadhil and Deborah Shaw. And the representativeness angle is played up:
“Romeo and Juliet in Baghdad’s” story line of a doomed cross-sectarian love affair manages to touch on nearly every element of the recent collective Iraqi experience.
In an interesting homage to the Iraqi Shakespeare tradition, Monadhil has cast 82-year-old Sami Abdel Hamid (MV 1965, Hamlet Arabian-Style 1973, MND and much else besides) in the role, fittingly, of a history teacher.  Look forward to seeing the man in person in Stratford.  He last appeared in the news ten years ago, I believe, when he directed the theatrical adaptation of Saddam Hussein's first novel, Zabiba and the King.  (not the Sacha Baron Cohen version). One of those complicated intellectuals who played the difficult, not wholeheartedly admirable game of surviving and continuing to produce art under a dictatorship that killed or exiled many of their colleagues and friends. 
Monadhil himself never worked under Saddam; he did his PhD (on ta'ziya theatre) in St. Petersburg and has lived in Sweden and Syria.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Ashtar's Richard II resonates in Jericho

Thanks to Daniele Ranieri for sending me Reuters' excellent writeup on the reception of the Ashtar troupe's Richard II production in Jericho (playing there before coming to London's Globe-to-Globe fest):
"Are you contented to resign the crown?" the rebelling Lord Bolingbroke, leaning impatiently on the already usurped throne, asks the King.
"Yes, no. No, yes," Richard stutters, igniting a roar of laughter from the local audience too familiar with similar jibes aimed at Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Yemen's Ali Abdullah Saleh in their waning days.
"Was this the face that, like the sun, used to make those who looked upon it blink?" the king then blubbers into a mirror, echoing the ranting self-praise of Libya's Muammar Gadaffi before revolt, as it did with the title character, led to his murder last year.
Organisers said the Palestinian company's production was not about the Arab Spring per se and worked in themes, though manifest in the current uprisings, not bound by time or borders.
"We were amazed how deeply the play delves into the psychology of people and this moment in history," said actress and producer Iman Aoun.
"It's as if people and politicians don't learn. They keep repeating their behavior and it makes us realise how much the play resembles the present," she said.
More reports here (Ma'an) and here (WAFA).

Happy Shakespeare Day, everyone!

Sunday, April 22, 2012

"Leila and Ben" (timely Tunisian Macbeth)

The National previews Lotfi Achour's Tunisian-themed Macbeth adaptation, premiering in London this July and playing Tunis in September.

Mounir Abou Debs' Hamlet

Just wanted to draw attention toBlogger ImproBeirut's helpful comment on a much earlier post, alerting me to a photo just posted on the Mounir Abou Debs Facebook fan page:
"Check this link... you can find a picture from the 1967 production directed by Mounir Abou Debs of Hamlet, on the right hand side is Michel Nabaa along with Antoine Kerbage playing the king and Reda Khoury on the far right as Hamlet's Mother."
Great! Now anyone feel like tracking down and examining Adonis' translation?

Friday, April 20, 2012

All the world is RSC's stage

More promo for the World Shakespeare Festival, now hyped as "the biggest Shakespeare festival ever" in this a Guardian interview with the ever-articulate Deborah Shaw. There's also some background on the Iraqi show.

Excited to go to London and Stratford in a couple of weeks to take in a few of these shows.  Only wish I had time to swing by Glasgow - looks like they are doing amazing, really thoughtful things on Arab-world topics at the National Theatre of Scotland!  

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

"Hamlet" Abu Ismail

Hamlet headlines a post on the influential Arabist blog about wacko Egyptian presidential candidate Hazem Abu Ismail's "Mama Amreeka" scandal.
(Meanwhile, photos circulating on Facebook show Abu Ismail as a quasi-Egyptian "god of lies."

Monday, April 9, 2012

South Sudan Cymbeline

I was amazed last fall when a theatre person contacted me looking for an Arabic translation of Cymbeline for the purpose of translating it on into Juba Arabic for a production by the South Sudan Theatre Company.  Now it's really happening! 
England-based folks: join me at the show on May 3, and meanwhile check out the publicity and fundraising efforts of the London-based support staff, most recently here. Trailers and company info are here:  And here's a BBC World Service report: just the sort of story the BBC would be attracted to.
A blog post by British Council director and "friend of the project" Tony Calderbank (is this the same Calderbank whose luminous translations of Arabic novels I've so enjoyed teaching?) writes movingly of the South Sudanese cast's determination to "stand for an hour or two on the world stage." Something not to be forgotten as various critics (including, no doubt, me) write various snarky things about the Globe-to-Globe and RSC festivals' framing and presentation of hot-spot Arab Shakespeares for their own self-serving rhetorical purposes.

"5) Do you agree that Hamlet can be a typical Palestinian guy? How?"

An obviously talented and dedicated university English teacher in Gaza, Refaat Alareer, posted this question last month as one of 12 Shakespeare questions for his students to answer on their class blog.  You can read all the questions and their responses here.  Here is the personal blog of the teacher; he's also on Twitter at @ThisisGazaVoice. And here is my favorite of his students' answers:
Can Hamlet be a typical Palestinian guy? Why?
Yes, he can.
Hamlet and an ordinary Palestinian guy have some things in common but also differ in other things. First, they resemble each other in the fact that, metaphorically speaking, the mother is presented as Palestine, Hamlet senior as a dead father and the uncle "Claudius" as Israel. The ghost of Hamlet tells Hamlet junior that "Claudius" killed him to marry his mother and take over the kingdom. This is found in act 1 scene 5 "The serpent that did sting thy father's life 
    Now wears his crown
 Consequently, the feeling of revenge as a result of the death of the father reveals for Palestinian guy the facts that Israel came to take over Palestine to enjoy its great riches and resources and make it their own. Thus, both Hamlet and the Palestinian desire to avenge the deaths of their fathers. However, they differ in two things. First, why the two couldn't at the beginning avenge for the deaths of their fathers. Second, Hamlet managed to take revenge at the end. On the other hand, the Palestinian guy either died trying or still can't. For further explanation, Hamlet couldn't kill or delayed killing his uncle 'till later on for several reasons. First of all some say that these lines of Hamlet in act 3 scene 3"Now might I do it pat, now he is a-praying, and now I'll do't. And so goes to heaven, and am I re[ven]ged. That would be scanned. A villain kills my father, and for that, I his sole son do this same villain send to Heaven." Prove that he was a religious man. So how can he kill the king? The God's spokesman on earth. Second, he wasn't very sure that his father was the ghost and what he had told him was true. Finally, some say that Hamlet didn't want to hurt his mother. First his father dies and now her new husband. His love for her is found in act 3 scene 2 "I will speak daggers to her but use non." The Palestinian couldn't avenge his father's death not because Israel is Allah's representative on earth, or because he is not sure that Israel was the reason behind the death of his father nor is it because he didn't want to hurt "Palestine" his mother. But because he simply doesn't have the means to and if he could at this moment to get out there and avenge the death of his father he would do it without any delay or hesitation. The second thing they don't have in common is that Hamlet at the end of the play manages to kill his father's killer. Unlike the Palestinian guy who is still trying, hoping and wishing. So again yes Hamlet, in a way, can be a typical Palestinian guy.
Other students give a more politically universalizable youth-centered reading:
Of course, any Palestinian at one day of his life will face the same as Hamlet.
What Hamlet faced is called The identity crises .Your parents want you to be something you don’t want ,or against your future plans and the only thing is available to you is to follow them. Father wants you to be a doctor and your intelligence is linguistic you want to be a writer .To sum up you will do something for your father as Hamlet did.
As with teaching everywhere, it's humbling to see what students get from the assignment, what they don't get, what they appropriate as their own and what passes them by.  Of course there are local constraints too.  The student who wrote the long response above also posted: "But plz stop increasing the number of questions !! 3 weeks won't be enough to answer them all !! First, no electricity. Second, no enough hours in the day !"

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A Saudi Serial: "To Be Or Not?"

This seems to have no relation with Shakespeare except the title. But doesn't the Gulfi Colloquial sound cool?