NYT reviews "R&J in Baghdad" in Baghdad

The New York Times’ Baghdad bureau has filed a sympathetic piece on Monadhil Daood’s Romeo and Juliet in Baghdad. It’s in the “Mideast” section rather than on the arts page (surprise), so don’t expect a lot of detail about the scenography or performances, but they do have some interesting interviews with audience members, actors, and Monadhil and Deborah Shaw. And the representativeness angle is played up:

“Romeo and Juliet in Baghdad’s” story line of a doomed cross-sectarian love affair manages to touch on nearly every element of the recent collective Iraqi experience.
In an interesting homage to the Iraqi Shakespeare tradition, Monadhil has cast 82-year-old Sami Abdel Hamid (MV 1965, Hamlet Arabian-Style 1973, MND and much else besides) in the role, fittingly, of a history teacher.  Look forward to seeing the man in person in Stratford.  He last appeared in the news ten years ago, I believe, when he directed the theatrical adaptation of Saddam Hussein’s first novel, Zabiba and the King.  (not the Sacha Baron Cohen version). One of those complicated intellectuals who played the difficult, not wholeheartedly admirable game of surviving and continuing to produce art under a dictatorship that killed or exiled many of their colleagues and friends. 
Monadhil himself never worked under Saddam; he did his PhD (on ta’ziya theatre) in St. Petersburg and has lived in Sweden and Syria.

"War after war! Where are all our men?"

Check out RSC Associate Director Deborah Shaw’s eloquent piece on Romeo and Juliet in Baghdad, the play created by her husband Monadhil Daood for the RSC’s upcoming World Shakespeare Festival.
I’m looking forward to seeing it in May.  Here is Shaw’s argument about intercultural appropriation:

At home I am often asked about the foreign-language productions that will be performed during the festival. A common question is: “How do they cope with Shakespeare’s complex language?” I wonder if there is an expectation inherent in the question that they will produce beautiful, literary translations, which will stay as close as possible to the original text. Do we expect them to perform close approximations of British productions, but in foreign clothes? Because they won’t.
Serious artists encounter Shakespeare as a playwright, his work to be transplanted and made sense of through the prism of a different reality and set of culture references. They tell the Shakespeare story they are compelled to tell, appropriating characters, narrative, moral dilemmas, symbolism and themes in a way that, I would argue, embodies the true dramatic spirit of Shakespeare.

What she describes is still a one-to-one encounter (which is what an RSC commission might tend to produce) rather than what I’ve been calling a national or regional “Shakespeare tradition.”  But I find this an attractive and convincing statement of how any “serious artist” (including an Anglophone one) would approach the task of adapting or even producing Shakespeare.