Ok, but this is interesting. From an interview with “UAE-born social entrepreneur Badr Jafar” on the occasion of the release of the charity single song “Bokra” (Tomorrow), produced with Quincy Jones:
I also feel that we need to further develop theater in the Middle East, which is why I recently launched the Middle East Theater Academy with famous actor Kevin Spacey who has dedicated a lot of his life to working with children and nurturing their creative talents with theater. We already conducted a number of workshops in the UAE and Qatar and will bring the first major production of Shakespeare’s Richard III to the Gulf later this year, with Kevin Spacey himself playing Richard III.
Presumably (and accurately) this puts Sulayman Al-Bassam’s RIII in the category of “minor production.” Still, if someone is on site, it would be interesting to compare the UAE reception of the two shows.
From a Sydney Morning Herald interview with Kevin Spacey, on playing Richard III:
But in the meantime, it is Shakespeare’s king who absorbs his attention, in a production that carries fresh relevance in the light of the revolutionary Arab protests.
”It’s interesting looking at these dictators around the world,” Spacey says, ”[and seeing] how their idea of what a king looks like is very much based on English monarchy.”
Forgot to blog about this HuffPost column when Google alerted me to it a couple of weeks ago. Who is this (self-anointed?) “expert” Shai Baitel, and why do his dyspeptic ruminations on Kevin Spacey as Richard III (under the pompous title “Power and Downfall — Between Shakespeare and Arab Tyrants”) merit placement as political analysis? Ah, but this is the magic of invoking Shakespeare to discuss contemporary politics. Any hint of today’s political violence adds the spice of perceived relevance to a simple run-through of an old history play.
But can Shakespeare’s Richard III, in Mendes’s thoughtful interpretation and irresistibly brought to life by Spacey, compare to the ilk of the rulers of Iran, to Bashar al-Assad, to Hassan Nasrallah, to Muammar Gaddafi?
And referring to Shakespeare’s plays automatically gives depth to otherwise incoherent ponderings on the Middle East.
But unlike Richard III our Middle Eastern despots have a larger arsenal at their hands: they are a 21st century variety of ruthless sovereigns, with propaganda, mass media, surveillance and intelligence agencies, sophisticated weapons and technology, as tools to keep their people in check and secure their rule. Richard III was left with shamelessly sowing terror. He did not hesitate to kill, including members of his own family, to reach his goal. Whoever had the temerity to disagree with Richard III’s opinion or argued with him went to prison — at best — or had to die. And he had the absolute power of the armed forces, which he used against his enemies. In that respect there are parallels indeed between Richard III and the modern-day Arab tyrannical leaders.
When I saw Sulayman Al-Bassam at the Kennedy Center in March 2009, there was a documentary film crew hanging around. Their presence was just another comic detail in the backstage buzz: technical glitches, dressing-room jokes, a bit part Sulayman had to play because a Kuwaiti cast member couldn’t get excused from his day job as a Ministry of Education employee even though Kuwait’s government had given $1 million as sponsors of the Arabesque festival, etc. etc. So then there were these random guys with movie cameras. Anyway, here’s the lovely trailer for the film they’ve made (I’ve already posted one review):
Update (in Arabic) on 66-year-old Iraqi director Salah al-Qasab’s plans (which I’ve mentioned before) to stage Richard III with Kurdish actors in Sulymaniya, Kurdistan. Funded by the Kurdish region’s Ministry of Youth and Sports. Hmm, wonder what this one will be about?
A documentary about the international tour of Al-Bassam’s Richard III: An Arab Tragedy premiered last month. Would love to hear from anyone who has seen it. Press release here, film website here.
Co-directed by Kuwaiti businessman and arts producer Shakir Abal with British TV director Tim Langford, Richard III “An Arab VIP” is a topical and timely documentary that melds Middle Eastern politics with onstage drama and offstage reality. In the film, the camera follows a pan Arab troupe of actors as they travel the world between the USA and the Middle East rehearsing and performing a highly acclaimed version of Shakespeare’s Richard III as conceived from a contemporary Arab perspective by renowned Kuwaiti dramatist Sulayman Al-Bassam. In addition to the highly dramatic performances by the exemplary troupe of actors, the 70 minutes film also includes interviews with the cast and crew as well as behind-the-scenes footage that shows what it is like to tour a top-notch stage play in sometimes less than perfect circumstances. The film is in English and Arabic with subtitles.
As foreign news coverage becomes unavoidable, Shakespeare becomes our contemporary once again. Here are a couple of examples; I’m sure there will be others as events develop.
From The Independent on March 14:
I arrived at the theatre for a performance of Richard III last week with an image from that evening’s television news in my head. A line of men lay on a road in Libya. Their hands were pinned to their sides and their noses were flat against the tarmac. But the camera panned low. You could see the sheer terror in their eyes as a beefy Gaddafi loyalist droned a litany of places where his men had killed protesters and where they yet would kill more. The men on the road are probably dead now.
Richard III is a play about a man of violence who maintains himself in office through a regime of unremitting brutality. It was written around 1590 but it is a mark of Shakespeare’s evergreen genius that the dynamics it describes are still being played out in Libya, and elsewhere, today.
From something called Economicpopulist, back on Feb 15:
Like Richard III before the Battle of Bosworth Field, Gaddafi watches supporters vanish from top to the bottom of his army. His response has been no less brutal than Richard’s, with assaults on his own people by hired thugs that he bought in neighboring countries. It will not end well for him, but it will end soon.
Salah Qasab, one of Iraq’s best-known directors Shakespeare (Hamlet, The Tempest, Macbeth, etc.), is talking about staging an adaptation of Richard III in Irbil, Sulaymaniye, and other venues in the Kurdish region of Iraq, if he can get enough support from Kurdistan’s ministry of culture. A few details in his interview with Al-Sabah al-Jadid newspaper (in Arabic).
But apparently he has had this plan for a while.
Theatre preview capsule by Ben Brantley (NYT 6/5/09)
Winters of discontent occur in even the sunniest climes. The Kuwaiti-born director SULAYMAN AL-BASSAM has relocated Shakespeare’s demonic Richard III to the Middle East, and this bloodiest of monarchs apparently feels gleefully at home in his new surroundings. Part of the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s “Muslim Voices: Arts and Ideas” festival, “RICHARD III: AN ARAB TRAGEDY,” which opens Tuesday at the Harvey Theater, was commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company as part of its 2007 Complete Works Festival. It has now arrived in the States (stopping off at the Kennedy Center in Washington this year) with its message of the utterly contemporary relevance of Shakespeare’s tale of a country raped and paralyzed by a charismatic sociopath. Mr. Bassam has written that “Richard III” has always fascinated him more as history than tragedy. The emphasis in his production, set in an unnamed Gulf emirate, is accordingly less on the psychology than the society of the crookback who would be king (who first appears under the name of Emir Gloucester, if you please). He is, Mr. Bassam says, “the twisted child of a demented history.” Arab music and ritual infuse this “Richard III,” which is performed in Arabic with English titles and seems guaranteed to summon images of the reign of Saddam Hussein and its chaotic aftermath. Tuesday through Friday, 651 Fulton Street, Fort Greene, Brooklyn, (718) 636-4100, bam.org; $25 to $45.
[Will I see BB at the show? Will be sure to keep you posted. -ML]
Al-Bassam’s Richard III: An Arab Tragedy will be at BAM in New York next week. Check out this brief piece by Alexis Sokolsky in their summer theatre preview. (I’m quoted!)