Richard III – An Arab Tragedy
at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon
Review by Terry Grimley
Despite its topical resonances this translation of Shakespeare's study of despotism to the contemporary Middle East drew a far from full house to the Swan.
But the sight of Al Jazeera television crews and the BBC's Arabic radio network interviewing departing audience members suggested there may be a keener interest in this cultural exchange from the Arab perspective.
Anglo-Kuwaiti writer-director Sulayman Al-Bassam has pared the play down to just under two hours. Some of the text is Shakespeare's and much of it is freely adapted.
The action is commented on by an observer's emails and by news bulletins from a television station which first omits mention of Hastings death and then belatedly fits it into the narrative with a confusion of tenses.
Richard's scene of mock-religious humility before the citizens is staged as a live television interview.
Performed in Arabic with English surtitles by a company of actors drawn from across the region, the production provides an interesting parallel to the play's historic setting. But I felt I was missing specific references and nuances that would be apparent to an Arab audience.
There is a humorous irony in the persistence of English names in this Arab context, and a more serious irony in the play's final scene, where the triumph of Richmond over Richard, usually seen as the end of civil war, is equated with the toppling of Saddam Hussein.
Syrian actor Fayez Kazak presents a handsome, charismatic and hyperactive Richard who is not at all the malevolent spider of British stage tradition but more like a slightly crazed Omar Sharif in a corset. An ensemble of exotic instruments – exotic for Stratford, that is – adds flavour.
Running time: One hour, 55 minutes. Until Saturday.