Afghan actors to bring the Bard to London

The cast were due to rehearse on the morning that suicide bombers stormed the British Council compound

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The Independent Culture

A troupe of Afghan actors who narrowly avoided death in last month's Taliban assault on the British Council's compound in Kabul are to perform Shakespeare at the Globe Theatre next year.

The company, who in 2005 became the first to perform Shakespeare in Afghanistan since the Soviet era, were due to rehearse their production of The Comedy Of Errors on the morning that suicide bombers and gunmen stormed the compound, killing 12 people. Only a last minute change of schedule saved them from being present during the attack on 19 August.

Next May, they will bring their Farsi-language production of the play to the Globe in London for the Globe Festival – a six-week cycle of Shakespeare plays performed by companies from 37 different countries, in 37 different languages.

"I had asked the cast if they wanted to rehearse in the early hours because it was Ramadan, but they said they didn't. The attack happened at 5.30am, so that decision saved us," said the group's French director, Corinne Jaber. "There would have been too many of us to get into the panic room. That would have been it. The cast told me that, after six years working with them, I am now an Afghan, because I have survived that."

The troupe's rehearsal space was damaged in the attack in the Karte Parwan district of the Afghan capital, which reduced much of the British Council's headquarters to ruins. Preparations for the show in London next year have been stalled, but Ms Jaber insisted that she and the cast had not been discouraged.

"If anything, this attack has strengthened our resolve to take this play to the Globe. Shakespeare is so universal. Terrorists can't stop him," she said. Rehearsals will restart in the UK in the new year.

The Afghan actors, none of whom speak or read English, were first introduced to the Bard by actor and director Corinne Jaber in 2005; staging a production of Love's Labour's Lost in Kabul, believed to be the first performance of a Shakespeare play in Afghanistan since the Soviet invasion of 1979. The play was translated from an existing Farsi-language version into the Afghan Dari dialect.

"The response to Shakespeare in Afghanistan is extraordinary," Ms Jaber said. "Elizabethan England actually corresponds to contemporary Afghanistan, in the way people relate to God and to society, and in particular in the role of women. We have transposed The Comedy Of Errors to Afghanistan. It begins with a father looking for a son, which considering its recent history, was a poig- nant story to set in Kabul."

The British Council, which promotes Britain's cultural and educational relationship with other countries, said it was unlikely to return to the compound where the attack happened due to the extent of the damage and continuing security concerns in the area. They are now operating at the British Embassy in Kabul.

The Afghan Comedy Of Errors is one of dozens of new productions commissioned for a six-month celebration of Shakespeare that will run from April to November 2012, with 70 performances by international theatre companies.

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