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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Recruitment Consultant

competitive + incentives + uncapped comms: SThree: Did you know? 98% of our di...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

competitive: SThree: Did you know? 98% of our directors started with SThree as...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive: SThree: Are you passionate about sa...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Sales Executive - OTE £28,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen