Something rotten

In Syria, meanwhile, recent Higher Academy of Dramatic Arts acting program graduate `Arwa al-`Arabi عروة العربي has directed what seems, according to this review in Al-Akhbar (also reprinted on the Iraq-based web magazine and maybe elsewhere), to have been a really awful production of Hamlet.  Mustafa al-Khani starred. Produced by the Ministry of Culture’s Department of Theatre and Music, it opened at the Hamra theatre in downtown Damascus. 
Does the young Syrian intelligentsia really have nothing better to do??  Last February (is it possible?) the same young director seems to have put on a funny J.B. Priestley play. The text of his Hamlet was edited by none other than Dr. Riad Ismat, who himself directed a “contemporary” Hamlet in 1973, and who is now Bashar al-Asad’s minister of culture. 

After a catalog of the new production’s shortcomings (and alas it fell short only in quality, not length), the reviewer concludes:

كل ذلك، أضاع بوصلة المشاهد عن مقولة العرض التي أراد العربي إيصالها إلى جمهوره: جميعنا الآن نعيش صراعات وحالات ارتياب وتأمل مثل هاملت في بلاد تحوّل فيها الموت والقتل إلى وجبة يومية.

All this has ruined the show’s chance to get across the play’s message, which al-Arabi had wanted to communicate to the audience: we are all now living through power struggles and amid doubts and hopes, like Hamlet, in a country where death and killing are daily fare.
Rehearsals began this past February. For a glowing announcement in the government newspaper Tishreen, see here.

3 thoughts on “Something rotten

  1. 1 – Riad Ismat’s production of Hamlet in 1973 was not “contemporary”.
    2 – The title role in the production of Orwa Al-Arabi was not played by Mustapha Al-Khani at all. He rehearsed the part of Hamlet for a short time, but did not continue due to some other commitments; he was substituted a long time before the opening by Wasim Qazaq. The photo must be from a very early rehearsal.
    Obviously, the article is written by somebody who hasn’t seen both productions, but written out of prejudice.

  2. Hamlet (1973) directed by Riad Ismat was not contemporary in its setting and costumes. It had a political interetation only – as Mamdouh Adwan wrote then – and was an arena style prodution by the Lycée students in Damascus.

    Hamlet (2012) directed by Orwa al-Arabi was a different text adapted by the well-known Shakespearean scholar, playwright and director Riad Ismat. Mutapha al-Khani did not play the title role in it; he did not participate at all and withdraw from the cast after a few rehearsals due to other television commitments. The production was quite successful and several articles heralded it in the press and many English Dept. Professors and students enjoyed it too.

    Obviously, the writer of the remarks did not attend either productions at all.

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