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?

Another "Arab Shakespeare Project"

A friend emailed me the announcement below. Does anyone know anything about this Mervyn Willis fellow? All details appreciated.

The Arabic Shakespeare Project is hoped [sic] to bring together no artists from the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, France and Morocco in a unique performance piece that will premiere in Morocco 2009 as part of the 1st Moroccan Winternachten International Literary Festival. It will then be offered to festivals in Morocco in 2009 before moving to Europe.

The Project has its roots in a project I created in Russia on a Fullbright Fellowship in 2000. There I worked at VGIK (The All Russian State Institute of Cinematography) under master cinematographer Vadim Ysouf to make a film with the theme “Shakespeare in Translation”. That work illustrated the complicated poetic tensions experienced by Boris Pasternak when he was forced by the Soviet government to translate Shakespeare in a form that was alien to his- and the work’s- poetic nature.

The Arabic Shakespeare Project will present live performances of Dhakirah, a script created by Mervyn Willis, utilizing Shakespeare in an equally groundbreaking context.

The Production is built around Shakespeare scenes forming a narrative arc of the army truths and paradoxes transparent in romantic love. These scenes are punctuated and woven together into seven sections driven by a narrative derived from the works of the Syrian poet Nizar Kabbani and contemporary Moroccan writer Youssef Amine Elalamy. The piece is performed in English, Arabic, and French, with a cast of four Moroccan actors, composer Karim Machdoud, and a highly visual style designed by Moroccan designer Abdelmajid Elhaouasse, all under the direction of British director Mervyn Willis.

The Arabic Shakespeare Project is planned to rehearse Spring-2009 and premiere in Rabat in mid-2009 and then tour to festivals and other cultural centres in Morocco in 2009. In the planning stages subsequent tours in 2009/10 are envisaged in France, the United Kingdom, and Holland, and other European centres of culture.