Shakespeare gives hope to Afghanistan arts revival

Wed Jun 6, 2012 8:22am EDT
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By Amie Ferris-Rotman

LONDON (Reuters) - A bearded man in drag and the Afghan army make unlikely companions in an adapted Shakespeare comedy whose London staging has shone a spotlight on Afghanistan's neglected arts scene.

Thirty years of war and conflict have severely hampered Afghanistan's cultural development. Afghans boast a rich musical legacy and tradition of poetry, but many of the most talented go abroad, fleeing a film industry on the brink of collapse and a theatre industry that was throttled at birth.

"This is a starter, the beginning of what could be a revolution to change Afghanistan through art," said actor Basir Haider, who plays a servant in William Shakespeare's "Comedy of Errors", a farcical play of mistaken identity.

The May 31 production in their native Dari Persian is part of Globe to Globe, which comes to a close at the end of this week and showcases 37 Shakespeare plays in 37 languages at the Globe Theatre as part of an Olympic cultural festival.

"Placing Afghan theatre next to the best in the world will hopefully allow more Afghans to tell their stories," Shreela Ghosh, director of arts for wider South Asia at the British Council, which brought the troupe to London, told Reuters.

Staging the play was a massive undertaking for small theatre company Roy-e-Sabs (Path of Hope), run by Syrian-German director Corinne Jaber.

Jaber said it was extremely difficult to find professional actresses in ultra-conservative Afghanistan and obtain rehearsal space free from the watchful eye of the pervasive and disapproving Taliban insurgents.

The actors rehearsed in India after their space at the British Council in central Kabul was obliterated by a band of suicide bombers last year.   Continued...