Spacey’s Richard III to come to the Gulf

Ok, but this is interesting.  From an interview with “UAE-born social entrepreneur Badr Jafaron 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.


Trailer: Richard III: An Arab VIP

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):

Syrian student "Twelfth Night" production

Amid everything happening in Syria, students at the Higher Institute for Dramatic Arts put on a production of Twelfth Night (of all things) earlier this month.  `Ajaj Salim directed.

From the few pictures available it does not look like political allusions were the order of the day.  Too bad: one could have a lot of fun with Malvolio.

The show then traveled to Sharjah, where it received warm reviews in Al-Bayan and Al-Ittihad (both in Arabic).  Here’s the press release with more background info.

"Ay, commerce you may call it"

From a roundup of Abu Dhabi financial news:

Shares of Abu Dhabi’s first real estate firm Aldar Properties gained 2.45 percent to close at Dhs1.68. Earlier in the day, Aldar announced that it development The Souk at Central Market will open its doors in November 2010 [sic], and it will harbour Abu Dhabi’s first Shakespeare & Co restaurant, a Grand Stores Digital, a variety of cafes as well as over 20 watch and jewellery stores.

The statement added, “The Emporium at Central Market, primarily a fashion retail destination, will also be home to brands such as E4U, Spinneys, Magrudy’s, Ted Baker, Bebe, Evita Peroni Pandora Jewellery, Network, Fabrika, Beymen Business, Alison Nelson Chocolate Bar, Fat burger and Studio Misr.”

Globe’s young-adult Macbeth in UAE

Take a break from watching a bloody dictator fight to the death against foreign-supported rebels on satellite TV… to watch one do it on stage.

London’s Globe Theatre educational project (Globe Education’s Playing Shakespeare with Deutsche Bank) is bringing its “educational” version of Macbeth to the UAE.  The performance of the show, created specifically for teenagers, was last night at the Abu Dhabi Theatre (would love to hear about audience reception from anyone who was there) and on March 27 and 28 at Al Madinat Theatre, Dubai.

Al-Bassam’s RIII plays in the Gulf

Sulayman Al-Bassam speaks to The National (Abu Dhabi) ahead of the UAE performance of Richard III: An Arab Tragedy.

Some nice bits:

I think one of the good things about the piece is that you don’t need to
know Shakespeare to appreciate it. I think a lot of people in the Arab world
have never come across Richard III,” says al Bassam.

Really? It would be interesting to ask an audience member who has never heard the plot of Shakespeare’s Richard III what s/he got out of Al-Bassam’s play. I think it would lose a lot of its depth without the York/Lancaster background.

Richard III: An Arab Tragedy is hardly the first reimagining of Shakespeare’s
popular play. The Elizabethan tale of unbridled power lust has been set in Nazi
Germany, in a crime-ridden American ghetto and even rendered in Japanese
animation, or manga, as a graphic novel. This, however, is the first time that
Richard III speaks in Arabic while in the contemporary Arabian Gulf, and al
Bassam worked with a number of writers and a poet who specialises in Bedouin
verse to get the cadence of the English adapted into Arabic. He says his focus
was capturing the rhythm, if not the word-by-word translation, of Shakespearean

The claims for the novelty and cultural representativeness of this adaptation have been scaled down over the past two years, I’m glad to report.

Because of its bilingual presentation, Richard III: An Arab Tragedy can seem
at times to be two plays in one. “For the Arab audiences, they are much more
tuned into the comedy of the piece and there is a quite comic element. So
the satirical elements come out a lot more clearly when we play to Arab
audiences,” says al Bassam. “Some of the western audiences, because of their
unfamiliarity with the culture that is being presented, they are a little
bit shy of laughing.”

This is a great point. They’re shy (and so they should be! Isn’t this hesitation before laughing at stereotypes of the other exactly what our post-Saidian culturally sensitive university teaching strives to inculcate?), and they can’t always distinguish what’s meant as satire from what’s meant as straight documentary presentation of cultural facts. Which is not their fault. But it’s a fact.

Hard not to feel that Sulayman has gotten a lot savvier about the way the same piece plays to different audiences. Well, 35 performances in nine (or is it more?) countries would do that for you.