The Bard goes global with 37 plays in 37 languages
By Jill Lawless, APLONDON--All the world's onstage — a single stage — as theater troupes from around the globe perform all of Shakespeare's plays in three dozen languages in the Bard's symbolic London home.
September 28, 2011, 12:47 am TWN
Shakespeare's Globe Theatre announced details Tuesday of a festival that will see all 37 of William Shakespeare's plays performed in 37 languages, from Urdu to Swahili, over six weeks in 2012.
The “Globe to Globe” festival includes companies from six continents, including the world's most populous countries, China and India, and the youngest — South Sudan, which became an independent nation in July.
Globe artistic director Dominic Dromgoole said a production of “Cymbeline” performed in the local Juba Arabic tongue would be the first time South Sudan has participated in an international cultural event, and a major achievement for the new country.
“The size of their desire to come here was simply overwhelming,” he said.
The festival, part of the cultural warm-up to next summer's 2012 London Olympic Games, reflects the ability of Britain's most famous playwright to reach audiences in myriad languages and cultures.
It kicks off April 23, Shakespeare's birthday, with “Troilus and Cressida” in Maori, performed by New Zealand's Ngakau Toa company, and includes what Dromgoole called a “lurid, tawdry, drugs-and-strippers” version of “Macbeth” from Poland.
Also on the program are “Twelfth Night” in Hindi, “Pericles” in Greek and “The Merry Wives of Windsor” in Swahili, along with productions by both Israelis and Palestinians. Tel Aviv's Habima company performs “The Merchant of Venice” — a play often accused of anti-Semitism — while Ramallah-based Ashtar Theater stages “Richard II.”
“Henry VI,” a three-part history of war and national identity, is being reinvented as a “Balkan trilogy” by the national theaters of Serbia, Albania and Macedonia.
Participants range from large and well-established companies such as the National Theater of China — performing “Richard III,” a study of coercion and dictatorship — to semi-underground troupes such as the Belarus Free Theater, whose members have been arrested and harassed by the former Soviet state's autocratic regime. It will perform Shakespeare's study of a dictator in decline, “King Lear.”
Afghanistan's Roy-e-Sabs will perform for the first time outside Kabul with a production of “A Comedy of Errors” in Dari. Until recently the troupe rehearsed in the British Council compound in Kabul, which was attacked by suicide bombers last month, sparking an eight-hour battle that killed eight people.
Three productions come from the English-speaking world: The Globe's own production of “Henry V” and a hip-hop-flavored “Othello” from Chicago's Q Brothers. London company “Deafinitely Theatre” will perform “Love's Labor's Lost” in British Sign Language.
The festival will be a complex logistical exercise, and producer Tom Bird said the ground rules given to participants were simple — don't bring a set, rely on costumes and movement and “revel in the music of your own language.”
The Globe is a recreation of the open-air theater where many of Shakespeare's plays were first performed. Many patrons stand in the open air as “groundlings” like their Elizabethan predecessors.
The festival is offering a variety of Olympic-themed ticket plans, from a two-play “biathlon” to a “marathon” of 26 plays. Adventurous and energetic theatergoers can see all 37 plays for 100 pounds (US$160) — if they are willing to stand.