Shakespeare, with Egyptian flare

Joseph Fahim
6 Min Read

When six theater students were assigned to produce an adaptation of Shakespeare s The Tempest, all hell broke loose. None of them warmed-up to a play they deemed to be naive, unbelievable and irrelevant.

Although the six were not given the luxury of choice, they were allowed to infuse the adaptation with their individual vision and style.

What this company eventually found out was that they could hardly agree on a single concept and the initial compromise led to an endless series of high quality drama.

The outcome of their work, The Tempest, was presented Monday at the Cairo Opera House s Artistic Creativity Center as part of the second National Festival for Egyptian Theater.

The play starts with all six members trying to persuade the others with the direction he/she believes they should adhere to. One believes they play it straight and accept the project as a challenge; another insists they turn it to a farce comedy; and a third one suggests they should infuse it with an America-bashing subtext since such a formula always seems to work with Egyptian audiences.

The six ultimately agree to stick with the original text of the play, storylines and the main plots but lighten up its tone.

Shakespeare s famous tale of kinship, the illusion of art, magic and colonialism revolves around the sorcerer Prospero, the previous and rightful duke of Milan, who was evicted from his post and home by his envious brother Antonio and Alonso, the duke of Milan. Prospero is stranded with his daughter Miranda for 12 years on an island that Prospero had designed to be an adequate home for the pair.

Prospero acquires his magic powers through books and quickly reigns over the island and its mystical creatures whom he enslaves.

When a ship carrying Antonio, Alonso, Alonso s son, Ferdinand, and his advisor Gonzalo among others, pass near the island, Prospero conjures his magic powers to cause a shipwreck that separates its passengers and drifts Ferdinand to the Island. Before the play reaches its well-known conclusion, Ferdinand would fall in love with Miranda, Antonio would conspire to murder Alonso and Prospero, who meanwhile plots his vengeance against his betrayers.

The entangling storylines of The Tempest function primarily as a platform for zany comedy and to illustrate the conflicting views of its large number of directors.

Refraining from the conventions of classical theater, the play is certainly experimental. Bertolt Brecht s third wall breaking technique is constantly applied with the directors loud instructions to the actors and their direct interactions with the audience.

The experimental facet of the play doesn t render it inaccessible. On the contrary, this testing method churns out slapstick entertainment that s the highlight of the play.

The main problem, however, is that the play runs out of steam minutes after the madcap mayhem resulting from the change of tone near the beginning. The actors do their best to conceal segments that play as fillers with their over-the-top acting that feels unnatural in parts.

The play also drags when the directors fail to inject anything substantial to their multi-layered script. The parts that do prevail work magic to make the play, as a whole, successful.

The Tempest contains several pop-cultural references that play out as a parody including Soda contest ads, Mohamed Mounir tunes, the film El Keef and Tango. The occasional direction given by the directors and its implementation was often followed by its hilarious repercussions.

Bayoumi Fouad (Gonzalo) and director Gamal Abdel Nasser (Antonio) steal the show. The former is a natural comedian whose smallest efforts had the audience erupting in laughter. One exchange between hims and the Iraqi director Alaa El Gaber over his instructions, ranks among the highest moments of the show.

Abdel Nasser s persistence in employing the America-bashing undertones throughout the play is equally amusing. His epic declaration of finding oil on Prospero s Island received some of the biggest applause of the night.

The production aspect of The Tempest is sparse. Marwa El Ameer s set hardly changes throughout the course of the play and the props used are a bit tacky. Ayman El Zarkany s costumes match the era of the play but lack flair in general.

The Tempest is an original performance that subtly conveys the hell ensued by creative differences in an experimental form that also indirectly trashes principles of Egyptian theater. It s a patchy work from a group of first-time directors, but the smartness, wit and energy of the script as well as the entire crew manage to hide its flaws.

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