Yohangza’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. From South Korea, this is a global, intercultural company (their name means ‘voyager’), who have successfully proved that the language of theatre is more than linguistic and, without attempting to ‘universalise’ or ‘homogenise’, they have nevertheless shown how easy it is for a story well told to criss-cross cultural boundaries. I was unable to get to London for the two days that it was playing at the Globe, but I saw it online. This production’s Seoul performance with English subtitles is available free via MIT Global Shakespeares website.
I was a Groundling for the first time when I went to see the Palestinian Ashtar Theatre Company’s Richard II. Standing right next to Sami Metwasi when he sat on the edge of the stage as Richard and lamented the death of kings in classical Arabic – well, it was simply one of the most compelling moments in theatre that I have experienced. I’ve blogged about it here, and I am currently co-authoring a journal paper on it with Margaret Litvin and Raphael Cormack. UPDATE: This is now published as ‘Full of noises: when “World Shakespeare” met the “Arab Spring” and the draft is available to read for free here if you don’t have access to a university database.
This was ‘balanced’ by the controversial invitation to Israel’s national theatre Habima, who against everyone’s expectations chose to put on The Merchant of Venice. By all accounts, the political theatricals that took place around the production were as powerful as the performances on the stage, and raised challenging questions about whether or not artists and artistic ‘products’ should be boycotted. Some Israeli commentators read it as a critique of internal Jewish racism, explaining that Shylock was represented as a Sephardic (Eastern/Mediterranean) Jew, while Portia and her coterie where Ashkenazi (European).
There were three powerful, cruelly absurd reconfigurings of Shakespeare’s ‘great’ tragedies.
The Belarus Free Theatre outdid any CGI technology by reproducing the storm with a simple blue tarpaulin and a bucket or two of water in its scathing satire, King Lear. The result: they left the audience stunned, and those of us at the front of the Groundlings, due to their extraordinary use of the elements, deafened and somewhat wet. I’ve blogged on it. Kochanowski Theatre’s Polish Macbeth divided British audiences between those who were horrified and disgusted by the sexual violence in its postmodern deconstruction of corrupt contemporary politics, and those of us, myself included, who thought that to not represent the ugliness of this on the stage would be in itself self-censorship and a betrayal of the mise-en- scene. Meno Fortas put on their famously ‘metaphorical’ Hamlet with aplomb. Audiences were drawn both by its director’s stature in European theatre circles and also, as noted in my blog, by the fame of its rock star Hamlet. Amongst all of this darkness, Marjanishvili Theatre from Georgia, put on a delightful and nuanced As You Like It. As well as my blog post I have an autumn leaf as a reminder.
My interest is not only in Eastern European appropriation, however. It was fascinating to see the deliberately apolitical Richard III by the National China of Theatre after spending so much time thinking about the more subversive work of Lin Zhaohua. It wasn’t so much Shakespeare as a secret agent as ‘Let me entertain you’! We were .
Others that I did not get a chance to see but wish I had included: Two Gents Shona language Two Gentleman of Verona (both hilariously funny and brilliantly dark, if it is anything like their English language version of the same which I saw on tour in Scarborough in 2009); Hong Kong’s Tang Shu Wing’s Theatre Studio Theatre’s Titus Andronicus;; and all the Indian subcontinent productions (Twelfth Night, Taming of the Shrew, The Tempest). I managed to catch up on The Merchant of Venice and Oyun Atölyesi’s Antony and Cleopatra from Turkey through the Performance and Festival section on The Space website. Unfortunately, many of the plays were taken off a day before its advertised end, so the time I had set aside for marathon Globe to Globe watching was in vain, and a shame for the students who had hoped to watch Hamlet the day before their lecture….
I’d be interested to hear you thoughts on any of these productions and also your views on the politics and economics of these types of festival. I loved every minute of Globe to Globe, but it does raise important questions about cultural ownership, how festivals package and represent companies as ‘the Other’, and how theatre can reach new audiences.
*All of the 37 plays in 37 languages were hosted in full with the exception of the Afghan Roy-E-Sabs’ exuberantly defiant Comedy of Errors, presumably because it has been unsafe for the actors, particularly the women, to have too high a media profile. An Afghan actress was murdered this summer just for being an actress. Shakespeare’s Globe have also not included any pictures of the women in their production photographs, apart from the US exile – the one who left Afghanistan after her husband was killed because he ‘let’ her work in television drama.