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Shakespeare in Kabul

April 26th, 2012 No comments

Shakespeare in KabulA remarkable new book has just come out about trying to mount a production of Shakespeare in Afghanistan, using a mixed cast, which of course is in itself a radical step.

Even the discussion about which play to select caused endless difficulties. Most of the comedies have “Male-female interactions  that could be problematic in performance”:  the Merchant of Venice raises issues of anti-Semitism; Measure for Measure and the Taming of the Shrew are not funny in a country where many women continue to be treated badly;  Miranda pursues a young man in The Tempest in a way Afghans would find ‘inappropriate’.  Obviously the history plays with their themes of invasion and insurrection could have played well – Richard II being a strong candidate.

But the producers did want to try to introduce a large female cast, so the search was on for the right comedy.

Eventually they settled on Love’s Labours Lost with its courtly conceit of four young men retiring from the world, and four young women disturbing that seclusion.  But even that caused problems. At one point the young men are required to disguise themselves as Russians to woo the women.  The actors categorically refused to dress up as Russians.  Eventually a compromise was reached.  They would disguise themselves as Indians instead.  As I know from my own travels in Afghanistan, because of Bollywood movies the Afghans think of India as the home of romance, so this transposition made sense.

As did these wonderful – and in Kabul, revolutionary – lines from Biron’s speech on the folly of forswearing the company of women:

From women’s eyes this doctrine I derive:

they sparkle still the right Promethean fire;

they are the books, the arts, the academes,

that show, contain and nourish all the world.

 

Shakespeare in Kabul (Haus) is by Stephen Landrigan and Qais Akbar Omar