Friday, June 22, 2012

If you are in London (Tunisian Macbeth)

Don't you love this headline from the Fulham Chronicle?
The Tunisian Scottish Play comes to Riverside

Here's the blurb:

A TUNISIAN version of Shakespeare’s classic tragedy Macbeth is coming to Riverside Studios next month.
The Bard’s malevolent tyrant and his wife are reincarnated as the equally diabolical modern day duo Leila and Zine Ben Ali. Combining Shakespeare’s original text with film and reportage, the production looks at the way Arab leaders use, possess and perpetuate power.
The production will run at the studios from Wednesday, July 4 to Saturday, July 7 as part of The World Shakespeare Festival.
  • What? Macbeth: Leila and Ben – A Bloody History
  • Where? Riverside Studios, Hammersmith
  • When? Wednesday, July 4 to Saturday, July 7
  • Cost? £17.50-£22.50
  • Call: 020 8237 1111
Equally diabolical?  Arab leaders in general?  Never mind; go see the show and tell me what you think.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Egypt's unhappy many

"Once More Unto the Breach" is the headline of Sarah Topol's wonderful analysis piece from Cairo, written before the latest developments in Egyptian politics (like the dissolution of the parliament) but already capturing the sense of disillusionment and self-reproach among the activists who helped propel -- and then allowed the military council to squander - the Egyptian revolution.
Alas: despite the Henry V-quoting heading, much of the rest of the mood in the piece is hardly Shakespearean.
"We fucked up a lot," one leading activist tells Topol. "We're always fucking up. Since day one, it's all a series of being fucked over by our own decisions. Since March 2011, it's downhill all the way from there."
More hand-writing abotu current Egyptian politics, for the next week or so at least, on my other blog.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Is Shakespeare, after all, a Palestinian?

Perhaps you've seen my exchange with Gaza-based English professor Refaat Alareer on the idea of Hamlet as a "regular Palestinian guy." Now we can broaden the identification to Shakespeare himself.
Eschewing any hint of the "Shaykh Zubayr" nonsense,  Palestinian director Amir Nizar Zuabi lays it out:
It is a well-known fact that Shakespeare is a Palestinian. And when I say "is" I do mean "is", not "was". The man might have been born in Stratford-upon-Avon four centuries ago, but he is alive and well today in Aida refugee camp, not far from the church of the nativity in Bethlehem. Shakespeare scholars may dispute this. But the reason I say this with such conviction (and even dare, sometimes, to believe it) is that, reading his plays, I have a sense of familiarity that can only come from compatriots.
When I think, too, of what Shakespeare writes about, I become totally convinced by his Palestinian-ness, preposterous though this might seem at first glance. There are not a lot of places where the absolute elasticity of mankind is more visible then in the Palestinian territories. In the span of one day, you might find himself reading a book in the morning, then in the afternoon be involved in what feels like a full-scale war; by dinner you and your wife have a lengthy discussion about the quality of that book, and just before you slip into bed there is still time to witness another round of violence before you tuck the children into bed. This mad reality blends everything – injustice with humour, anger with grace, compassion with clairvoyance, comedy with tragedy. For me this is the essence of Shakespeare's writing; and the essence, too, of being Palestinian.
Read the rest: it's great.  There's some cultural generalizing all right, "blazing sun" and "rhythms of the Quran" and all that... but artists, unlike academics, are allowed such thinking. 

It strikes me that the kind of identification Zuabi is performing works in the opposite direction from Prof. Alareer's.  Whereas the teacher aims to get his students to care about Shakespeare by bringing it closer to their lives (a domesticating or appropriation move, in the best sense), the director wants to get Brits to rethink what they "know" about the Palestinians, appropriating the great cultural hero of Western drama to do it. (I'm just guessing "elasticity" is not top on the list of qualities most Brits, even Guardian readers, tend to ascribe to Palestinians.)
Zuabi's is a classic national-liberationist or recently postcolonial appropriation of Shakespeare.  (My book, in a different way, makes the same move: using something my Anglo-American intended readers think they know to defamiliarize and reorient what they know about "Arab culture.")  Check out the toxic reader comments under Zuabi's post, and you can see why this sort of possibly neurotic-seeming self-identificatory move might still be necessary.  The comments also highlight that Zuabi's appropriation works in yet another opposite direction from one like Sulayman Al-Bassam's Al-Hamlet Summit: one reader absurdly (he thinks) quips: "Hard to imagine Hamlet with a suicide belt, somehow" (he obviously didn't see this one).  The difference is that Al-Bassam's show reoriented how some Brits saw Shakespeare, not how they saw contemporary Arab realities.

Zuabi is currently directing Comedy of Errors at the RSC. I won't get to see it, but you should. (It might be interesting to compare his production to the Afghan one in London. Hey you grad students out there!)

 Many thanks to Amahl Bishara for the link.

Saffron Walkling on the UK Shakesfests; Globe-to-Globe video now available

Saffron Walkling has republished her apt and generous reflections on the three Arab Shakespeare productions that were part of Globe-to-Globe.  Originally on her personal blog, the piece is now on the BloggingShakespeare site, a good resource for materials on all the plays. She writes, in part:

Because all three productions were taking part in the World Shakespeare Festival in one week, their combined effect has prompted me to think about what the word Arabic conjures up for me, how diversely Shakespeare can be appropriated, translated and presented, and how the World Shakespeare Festival is trading in/constructing images of the Arab speaking world for its audiences. The latter is not necessarily as ethically dubious as it sounds, and I will attempt to unpack why a little later, but it is important to note that at least two of these productions were commissioned by the festival organisers.

Which reminds me that I spoke to Deborah Shaw about this issue in Stratford; she gave an eloquent defense of the RSC's non-Orientalist, non-condescending motives.  I need to write up that interview soon.  I also complained to Monadhil Daood and his cast, after watching Romeo and Juliet in Baghdad, that the bombs were too loud. They responded unanimously: "Well, you should hear what it's really like in Baghdad! They're much louder!"  So chalk one up for embodied presence, I guess.

Want to see the shows for yourself? Monadhil's previously hard-to-reach RJ in Baghdad (for which one had to take a train to Stratford-upon-Avon) is doing a short run at Lift at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, West London: June 28-30
And full video of the Globe productions, including Cymbeline and Richard II, is viewable online at least through October, thanks to the English Arts Council.
While it isn't quite "live, free, and on demand" as their web site promises (how could it be live?), it is amazingly cool to have these shows available for re-viewing and for those, including of course the original audiences back home in South Sudan or Palestine, who couldn't come to the Globe.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Another "Hamlet" protest sign - Syria last spring - in Arabic this time

Just found this too, from Syria. Over a year old: Dera'a, April 2011. Reported here. The sign with two lines of black text right in the middle says "Imma an takuun aw la takuun."  Written in Arabic, in case you were wondering whether only Anglophones use this line. 

Heading back to Cairo, briefly

I'll be in Cairo briefly June 15-23.
Just found this image from Feb 5, 2011 - from the demonstrations in Tahrir that "toppled," as the phrase goes, the dictator Hosni Mubarak. With the bitter wisdom of hindsight we might erase that "toppled" and write in: "allowed the Armed Forces to self-interestedly remove."  The poor girl in this photo - what kind of country will she grow up in?
[Update - image has vanished from Transterra Media web site... this is just a Google cache thumbnail; anyone know how to get it back?]