Magazine article The Spectator

All the World's a Stage

Magazine article The Spectator

All the World's a Stage

Article excerpt

Shakespeare in Kabul by Stephen Landrigan and Qais Akbar Omar Haus, £12.99, pp. 280, ISBN 9781907973208 In Translations, Brian Friel's play about English military and cultural imperialism, the frustrated teacher Manus explains how he uses 'the wrong gesture in the wrong language' to insult in Gaelic an English soldier.

In Shakespeare in Kabul, Stephen Landrigan and Qais Akbar Omar's account of the first production of Shakespeare in Afghanistan since before the Soviet invasion in the 1970s, an Afghan theatre group, led by the French director Corinne Jaber, attempt the 'right' gestures in their own language as they perform Love's Labour's Lost.

Following the initial 2005 performance in Kabul, the actors are now trying to do the same in London, re-importing Shakespeare to the UK by putting on The Comedy of Errors in Dari at the Globe Theatre in London.

Shakespeare in Kabul offers primarily a simple narrative of the 2005 production, leaving deeper issues either only implicitly evident or unexplored. The authors, who were both involved in the play, perhaps have in mind the plethora of literature on the condition of Afghanistan. As an overt focus on such issues might diverge from the main story, this is mostly welcome. However, at moments, the opportunity to look through the prism of this production into, for example, the regional and ethnic divisions throughout Afghanistan (conservative Kandahar and the south are conspicuous mainly by their absence) is missed.

Putting on a production of Shakespeare in Kabul is perhaps even more momentous than it sounds. The Taleban's notorious Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice would never have permitted the performance of an English play with female actresses. Even in the era of 'blind optimism' permeating Afghanistan in 2005, the production represented an affront to prevailing beliefs; as one of the leading actors states boldly at the outset, 'we could challenge the whole country'. …

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