Shakespeare enchants Palestinian refugees

Donald Macintyre sees The Tempest performed in Aida camp

The enjoyably chaotic atmosphere, said the director Jonathan Holmes just before the show started, was positively "Elizabethan".

True there were no mobile phones, a few of which trilled during the performance, in Shakespeare's time. But close your eyes and you could just about imagine that the children sucking ice lollies running up and down the steps of the Aida refugee camp's open-air auditorium, were behaving much as the Globe's younger groundlings would have done four centuries ago.

Given this was a young Palestinian audience presented with a straight Shakespearian text with only periodic Arabic synopses it was a tribute to the British Jericho House theatre's cast that so many stayed until the end.

And there was something irresistible about seeing The Tempest – its themes identified by advance publicity of "territorial conflict, displacement and political renewal"– in the shadow-literally-of the forbidding eight metre-high separation wall built by the Israeli military and looming over the camp.

Nevertheless there were times when the actors had their work cut out, with a (sometimes) frightening Caliban, drunken Trinculo and others making sallies into the audience to keep it engaged. At one point two Palestinian playgoers stood to greet each other with handshakes, just as Prospero was effecting his reconciliation (along with freedom, another appropriate theme of the play's conclusion) with his shipwrecked, usurping enemies.

For a second it was hard to tell who were the actors, who the spectators. Actress Ruth Lass, who as a beguiling Ariel, shushed the audience from time to time in character, at one point grabbing an apparently unfazed little girl to dance with her on stage, said after the performance: "In Shakespeare's times it would have been like this. You have to work hard to hold the audience. That's the nature of theatre."

It isn't often a British theatre company has its pre-London run – the play will open for a month at St. Giles' Church Cripplegate on 21 September – in the West Bank and the Israeli mixed Jewish Arab city of Haifa, where it will stage two performances tonight.

One shadow hung over the tour, however. Originally, the play was due to be performed in Jenin at the Freedom Theatre, whose inspirational director Juliano Mer-Khamis was the tour's main champion. The venue had to be dropped when Mr Mer-Khamis, the son of a Jewish mother and a Christian Arab father, was assassinated by masked gunmen in the city in April.

For Jonathan Holmes, The Tempest has a particular relevance to the Middle East. He is careful not to suggest any exact parallels. But without repeating a fashionable "post-colonial" reading of Caliban as the rebellious, and Ariel as the more collaborative victim of exploiters from outside, he believes the play, set somewhere between Western Europe and the Levant, "becomes a contest for territory between people of different cultures, and between people of the same culture. Shakespeare uses this to explore different systems and ideas of political resistance."

Nancy Ijara, 18, an Aida student at Al Quds University, said she didn't think it had a special relevance to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But she added: "I had some background because we read about William Shakespeare in high school, which helped me to understand what was going on... I liked the scene where Miranda and Ferdinand got married, and I liked the part where Prospero forgave all the people who had been against him."

The response of Hala al Yamani, a university teacher from Bethlehem was more nuanced. "It's very interesting to see a Shakespeare play in Bethlehem done by British people," she said. "I don't think it's political. It's about more than politics. It's about humanity."

Pointing out that the dispute between Prospero and his brother Antonio is at the heart of the play, she said that maybe there were some connections to the Middle East conflict,

But she added pointedly: "One [brother] has got the power and the other hasn't, but in the end he gives his brother his freedom. I think we will have to take ours."

Political or not, Walid Abusrour, a passionate Palestinian theatregoer who lives in the US but was brought up in Aida, followed the play in his own text and was inspired enough to deliver Hamlet's "To be or Not to Be" soliloquy from the stage as the audience left after Prospero's final monologue.

"I never thought I would see Shakespeare performed in English at Aida camp," Mr Abusrour said happily.

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA powerful collection of reportage on Egypt’s cycle of awakening and relapse
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
people
News
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
News
Tovey says of homeless charity the Pillion Trust : 'If it weren't for them and the park attendant I wouldn't be here today.'
people
Sport
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little