Reports on any cultural, entertainment or social event in Afghanistan and Pakistan inevitably feature a paragraph or two about how the Taliban would disapprove and a short synopsis of the wars in both countries.
My personal favourite line, from two separate reports on a music school in Lahore, was about young Pakistanis ‘rocking on’ in a ‘summer of Taliban violence’.
There’s a sense of surprise and wide-eyed amazement that often emits from these reports, as if it is a wondrous thing that Pakistanis and Afghans know what culture is.
Shakespeare in Kabul attempts to shake that. The tale of how a production of William Shakespeare’s “Love’s Labours Lost” was staged in Kabul, by playwright Stephen Landrigan, French actor Corinne Jaber and Qais Akbar Omar (the assistant director), has its own sense of wide-eyed amazement, but it is by the director who finds talented Afghan actors whose intonations leave their audience stunned.
Jaber and Landrigan’s visit to Kabul’s Foundation of Culture and Society inspires them to put on a production, But, the process is far more difficult than they imagine.
First there’s the problem with translating the play into Farsi and Dari and then there are issues in finding a cast.
Jaber insists on finding female actors and selects Marina Gulbahari, the child star of the haunting 2003 film Osama.
Some of the actors of the all-Afghan cast are veterans and bring their own egos to the production while others are glad at the chance to perform.
Despite tensions, arguments and last-minute changes, Shakespeare’s words triumphantly come alive in Kabul.
Shakespeare in Kabul is an uplifting read, if a tad too earnest. Despite the authors’ attempts to highlight the conditions in which this play was produced, violence remains at the edges of this book — never really overshadowing the tale.
The Afghan actors performing Love’s Labour’s Lost refuse to speak of the violence. Any mentions are mere fragments and they turn discussions of the war into satirical performances.
Quite notably, when they start discussing the play, they say they do not want to perform one of Shakespeare’s tragedies.
Nabi Tanha, one of the actors, speaks up: “We have lived tragedy for three decades of war. We want to do comedy.”
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, June 10th, 2012.
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