Al-Bassam in Damascus

Have to ask Sulayman about this (from the Abu Dhabi-based, English-language National. It must have been hair-raising and very satisfying. Not because of any “catch the conscience of the king” effect — current rulers can sit brazenly through anything. Rather, perhaps, because of the effect on the rest of the audience watching the play in the ruler’s presence. (Especially since Fayez Kozak is such a stage and film star in his native Syria.)

The play’s the thing… and so is a president in the audience
Hamida Ghafour

President Bashar Asad and his beautiful wife Asma, a former investment banker, are frequently seen on Damascus’s cultural circuit.
Recently, Shakespeare’s Richard III was brought to the Damascus stage after the city was named the Arab cultural capital of 2008. The Kuwaiti director, Sulayman al Bassam, reworked the play…
A good friend of mine related this anecdote to me after he watched the play. It was due to begin at 8pm but the crowd grew restless as an hour went by without any sign of the play starting.
“Two seats were being kept empty, obviously for someone senior,” he related. Finally who should walk in but Mr Asad and his wife. The president gave a gangly wave of the hand before sitting down. My friend was quite nervous at what he would make of the play. But he followed it intently and visibly cowered when a pistol was pointed at “Emir Gloucester”.
The audience waited expectantly during a sarcastic scene near the end when Gloucester, with mock reluctance, accepts the crown after a vote in which 99 per cent of the population endorses him. “What happened to the other one per cent?” someone asks. “Oh,” came the dry reply, “they were trying to vote by phone or online but ran out of credit.” Mr Asad – endorsed by 97 per cent of the vote in the last referendum – laughed heartily.

More here.

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