Afghan actors gear up for Shakespeare at London Olympics

Sun Feb 26, 2012 7:07pm EST
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By Amie Ferris-Rotman

KABUL (Reuters) - The odds were against them: Taliban suicide bombers laid siege to their rehearsal space and the search for actresses in ultra-conservative Afghanistan was long and arduous.

But come late May, a band of Afghan performers will be staging a play by William Shakespeare in their native Dari at London's Globe Theatre, part of a cultural festival designed to lead up to the Olympics.

"We took a comedy because the Afghans don't want to do tragedy, they have lived enough tragedy," German-Syrian director Corinne Jaber said of choosing "Comedy of Errors", Shakespeare's farcical, slapstick play of mistaken identity.

The project will allow Afghans to defend a culture severely ruptured by 30 years of war and conflict, said local celebrity Nabi Tanha, who plays a lead role of Antipholus of Ephesus and debuted to Western audiences in the Oscar-nominated Afghan film "The Kite Runner".

"Slowly and gradually, we are trying to rebuild our arts and theatre again after they were destroyed by fighting," he told Reuters before donning a grey silk turban for a scene.

Afghan-made costumes with traditional fabrics, Afghan music, Afghan place names as well as local renditions of the characters -- Antipholus of Ephesus is renamed Arsalan -- complement the original Shakespearean text in Dari.

The play is part of "Globe to Globe", a celebration of the Bard where all his 38 plays will be performed in 38 languages by 38 companies in a six-week festival that kicks off on his birthday on April 23, and includes troupes from South Sudan and ex-Soviet Georgia.

It is part of the London 2012 Festival, itself the climax of the Cultural Olympiad, a four-year celebration of arts and culture in Britain leading up to the London summer Olympics.   Continued...