In 2012, Palestine’s Ashtar Theatre company performed an Arabic translation of Shakespeare’s Richard II to considerable acclaim, as part of the Globe to Globe festival at London’s reconstructed Elizabethan theater.
Now the performance is available to stream or download via the Globe’s on-demand viewer, which offers access to a wide range of its productions, filmed and – when not performed in English – subtitled.
Ashtar’s adaption of Richard II, translated by Iman Aoun and Bayan Shbib – both of whom also appear in the play – stars the outstanding Sami Metwasi as a taut, vainglorious king who seems intent on denying his own unpopularity.
Ashtar is a dynamic Palestinian theatre company with a global perspective, founded in Jerusalem in 1991. In 2010 the group performed The Gaza Monologues, a series of stories told by the young people of Gaza — an unprecedented theatrical project involving thousands of people and 44 theatre groups from around the world. This vital theatre brings their direct storytelling style to Shakespeare’s great masterpiece of dislocation.
The website’s summary of Richard II’s plot, meanwhile, hints at the many parallels that might be drawn between the plot and historical or contemporary events in Palestine and the wider Middle East:
As Bolingbroke accuses Mowbray of treason and murder, and the two men prepare to fight a duel, King Richard intervenes and banishes them both from England. Already unpopular with his lords, he angers his supporters further by selling land to fund the disastrous war in Ireland. With the help of those alienated from Richard’s support, Bolingbroke returns to England with an army to seize the throne from the unpopular King.
With sparse staging, this version of the play is physical, sometimes brutal, occasionally hilarious; when I saw it during the 2012 festival, the protracted applause confirmed the audience’s appreciation of the production’s quality, despite the reliance of many viewers on the overhead synopsis.
It’s a credit to the Globe that this, and other productions in languages from around the world, are now accessible to global audiences.