Interview with Director

We asked Director of Romeo and Juleit in Baghdad, Monadhil Daood, all about his new production...

Why did you originally choose to adapt Romeo and Juliet for an Iraqi audience, and how do you think it will be received by British audiences?

Romeo and Juliet feels like the right play for Iraqi audiences at this time. I discussed my choice with many Iraqi writers and playwrights, who all agreed. We are living in a time of conflict and violence between communities in Iraq. The audience will see their own reality in front of them on stage. It may shock them.

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.

What changes have you made to the original play for this production?

The importance of Shakespeare does not lie in the story itself, but in the way the events of the story are interpreted and presented. I took my cue from Shakespeare in my own approach. We are creating a piece of theatre which reflects the modern world but which is rooted in Iraqi ritual. I believe that ritual is the soul of theatre.

What is the attraction of Shakespeare for an Iraqi and Arabic audience?

Tragedy and poetry find a meeting place in Shakespeare. In Iraq, daily life is infused with poetry; children recite it in the playground and every household has its own poet. And as for tragedy…it is one of the defining characteristics of the Iraqi people.

In my own writing I try to avoid what is seen as 'poetic' language in Arabic in favour of a style which is spare, unadorned and driven by the action – inherently dramatic rather than 'literary'.

What are the problems with translating and performing Shakespeare in Arabic?

It would probably be more straightforward to translate Shakespeare's play into formal Arabic, but our version is not a direct translation and is written entirely in colloquial Iraqi dialect. Our translator - himself a poet and filmmaker who trained in London - has joked despairingly about the impossible task of translating some of these Iraqi phrases and images directly into English. He has had to search for alternative synonyms in an attempt to convey the meaning. In this task he has been joined by the Director of the World Shakespeare Festival, Deborah Shaw, who has seen rehearsals and helped with further drafts of the translation. So we hope it will make sense to English audiences.

Has Shakespeare been performed regularly in Iraq over the past 20 years? Which plays are preferred?

It's hard to talk in terms of regularity in a country that lived in turmoil for over 30 years. But I can say that the Iraqi theatre has presented a fair amount of Shakespeare in that time. In the mid-1970s, Sami Abdul Hameed directed a famous production of Hamlet and later A Midsummer Night's Dream. (Sami is now 82 years old and one of Iraq's most famous and respected actors. I am delighted that English audiences will see him performing in our Romeo and Juliet in Baghdad).

There have been other productions of Hamlet, Othello, King Lear, Julius Caesar and Macbeth. But for me - right now I am in love with Romeo and Juliet.

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