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Posts Tagged ‘Ashtar Theatre’

Well, I managed a full house this week – six plays (though I have to confess I didn’t make it through to the end with two of them – but only one for reasons of an enjoyment nature). The weather was a bit better, but only a bit; less rain, but still oh so cold.

We got off to a cracking start with the Korean A Midsummer Night’s Dream. With wonderful make-up and costumes, this very athletic show dumped the rude mechanicals and focused entirely on the main story. Puck was twins and Bottom turned into a pig rather than a donkey. It may not have pleased the purists, but it was completely in the spirit of Will’s play and a joy from start to finish. The actors of Yohangza company came into the foyers for photos and meet &  greet so we were able to thank them for coming.

I had high hopes of Julius Caesar ‘coming home’ to an Italian company. Sadly, in the hands of a seemingly avant-garde director, we got a static, slow, dull and irritating interpretation. There was a lot of stuff with mobile doors and other directorial conceits and even if you told me they were offering free Chianti in the second half, I still couldn’t have been persuaded to return.

The world’s newest country, South Sudan, with the help of the British Council, were very brave to tackle Cymbeline. It wasn’t as refined as much of what had gone before or will no doubt will follow, but it was quite possibly the true spirit of this festival and thoroughly enjoyable. The actors had real presence, projected brilliantly, with superb audience contact and their excitement at being part of it all was infectious. The play ends in peace and one can only hope these people find peace, despite this week’s news stories. Lovely.

When Titus Andronicus started, we were confronted with the actors from Hong Kong company Tang Shu-Wing sitting on chairs in an arc, dressed in white, grey or black depending on their ‘allegiance’. The first two acts were presented as a summary, lasting less than 30  minutes, as they spoke and struck poses with no interaction. Just as I was thinking  ‘it’ll be over in an hour’, they revert to more normal staging for the ‘meat’ of the play (sorry!). The acting was absolutely brilliant and I was captivated for the rest of this most bloodthirsty of plays. Despite the body count, there was no blood (or onstage baking!) but the tale of revenge was brilliantly told.

Richard II was presented by Palestine company Ashtar Theatre. It was a tense, angry and passionate production, with Richard as a charismatic manic rather than an introvert. The English names interspersed with the Arabic dialogue (blah blah blah Mowbray blah blah Ireland blah blah blah) brought a smile to my face. The uprising of five, entering through the audience waving flags, faces covered with scarves, was surprisingly effective and the staging of the negotiations was light-hearted but very clever. I was enjoying it very much, but sadly by now too exhausted to see it through to the end.

The week ended with Othello: The Remix, a Hip Hop story (rather than Shakespeare’s play as such) from Chicago’s Q Brothers. The theatre was packed and the average age had reduced by decades. The four actors rapped virtually the whole thing in 75 minutes, with the help of a DJ of course, dumping all but the eight main characters. It was largely played for laughs, yet the story was intact, and you couldn’t hear a pin drop when Desdemona was dying. Othello was the king of Hip Hop and Desdemona was a singer (represented here just by her recorded voice) and it all happens when they’re on tour. I would have liked to have got more of the clever verse – the amplification, background sounds and street style vocal buried a lot of it – but it was a quartet of four virtuoso performances and a real buzz in the house. Somehow, I think Will (and Sam) would have been thrilled.

Now it’s time for the Europeans, so far eclipsed by the Asian Antipodean African & American visitors, to raise their game. Come on Poland; give us a Macbeth to be proud of !

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