Debate: Romeo And Juliet In Baghdad

The World Shakespeare festival is now underway across the UK. Running until November, the festival was set up with the vision of bringing new and innovative cultural adaptations of Shakespeare’s iconic plays and showcasing them in London, Edinburgh, Birmingham, South Wales, Brighton, and of course, the bard’s place of birth, Stratford-upon-Avon.

The festival has a myriad of different performances taking place from production companies all over the world; you can see Macbeth in Polish, A Midsummer Nights Dream in Russian or Cymbeline in Japanese. But catching our eye most of all is the adaptation Romeo And Juliet in Baghdad.

Created by the Baghdad Iraqi Theatre Company, the performance hopes to breathe new life and new perspective into Shakespeare’s most famous play. Performed in Arabic, the play promises to fuse the tragic love story with traditional Iraqi poetry, music and ritual.

Set in modern day Iraq, director Monadhil Daood believes that a country with sectarian struggles between Sunni and Shia, and a tumultuous climate will provide the perfect backdrop for a tale of conflict between families, communities and generations.

Daood said of the performance: “The truth is the same whether in Baghdad or London, and the best theatre speaks directly from one heart to another. We hope our Iraqi Romeo and Juliet will build bridges with British audiences. We will show our Iraqi reality through modern and contemporary forms, music and singing; all the beautiful customs and traditions of our country. Our play is about how to love and hate and live and die. And we hope that if we die, we die of love”.

Daood founded the Iraqi Theatre Company in 2008, in a bid to rebuild the theatre tradition of the country. Since its formation, the company has organised several plays in Baghdad, and is looking forward to sharing their performances with the rest of the world.

The fusion of Iraqi culture with British heritage is certainly an interesting and exciting prospect. And we’re sure that watching such a renowned story as Romeo and Juliet in Arabic will be truly fascinating.

But there are also questions that arise from such a performance. It’s undeniable that the somewhat turbulent setting of Baghdad does aid the frictive narrative of Romeo and Juliet, but does that mean it should be done? Is there not a concern that to weave Shakespeare’s iconic love story into the streets of Baghdad, may render the hardship of real life Iraqi’s somewhat fictionalised? Or is there a positive argument for spreading awareness?

And while it may certainly be interesting to see Shakespeare performed in Arabic, why should a Middle Eastern production need to lean on an already-familiar plotline to gain attention? Would it not be more interesting to see an Iraqi story told on the streets of London? – Or maybe retelling Shakespeare is in fact a brilliant way to garner attention.

Does it matter, or should Romeo and Juliet in Baghdad just be taken as an art form and nothing more. What do you think? We’d love to know.

Romeo and Juliet in Baghdad is due to be performed at LIFT at Riverside Studios, London 28-30 June 2012.

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