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“One of the most intriguing and intelligent pieces I have seen”
The Financial Times, UK, 16 August 2002 (Ian Shuttleworth)

“The most daring piece of political theatre”
The Times, UK, 12 August 2002 (David Stenhouse)

“Al-Bassam’s reworking of Shakespeare’s play is a brilliantly simple theatrical conjuring trick that has Elsinore fitting the current explosive state of Middle East politics like a silk glove.”
The Guardian, UK, 13 March 2004 (Lyn Gardner)

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Playtext

The Al-Hamlet Summit

Synopsis
A startling piece of new writing that borrows from Shakespeare’s plot to create a poetic and powerful critique of contemporary political scenarios, set in the cauldron of Middle East discontent. The familiar characters of Shakespeare’s play are delegates in a conference room in an unnamed modern Arab state on the brink of war. Having gained control of a modern Arab state, a ruthless dictator attempts a westernised experiment, in thrall to arms dealers and propped up by US dollars. Yet a catastrophic war is brewing, he is besieged by enemy neighbours from without, and a growing politicised Islam from within, and his predecessor’s son Hamlet is plotting revenge…

With the introduction of an Arms Dealer, desperately courted by each of the delegates, Shakespeare’s universe firmly enters the present day. Visually, we are solidly located in a 21st century political universe, with the live-feeds and projection screen constantly reminding us of last night’s television address by George W. Bush, or last week’s summit in Bonn or Washington.  This arrangement allows Shakespeare’s words to take on an uncanny metaphorical resonance.

Running time: 95 minutes without interval

Credits
Written and Directed by Sulayman Al-Bassam
Inspired by William Shakespeare’s Hamlet
Script Editor and Artistic Producer: Georgina Van Welie
Musical Director: Lewis Gibson
Assistant Director: Nigel Barrett

Performers: Mariam Ali, Nigel Barrett, Nicholas Daniel,  Monadhil Daood, Bashar Al-Ibrahim, Mohamed Kefah Al-Khous, Amana Wali
Composers/Musicians: Lewis Gibson, Alfredo Genovesi

Production Manager: Mohammed Jawad
Lighting Design/Technical Manager: Richard Williamson
Assistant Lighting Design: Robin Snowden
Surtitles Director: Wafa’a Al-Fraheen

Original production performed in English
Arabic version commissioned and co-produced by Tokyo International Arts Festival 2004

Production History
The Al-Hamlet Summit (English version) was a reworking of The Arab League Hamlet which had evolved out of Hamlet in Kuwait (2001).  The Al-Hamlet Summit opened at the Pleasance Dome, Edinburgh UK in August 2002 as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and toured to Cairo, Egypt as part of the 14th Cairo International Festival of Experimental Theatre in September 2002.

Tokyo International Arts Festival commissioned an Arabic language version of the piece and co-produced the 2004 tour. The Arabic premier opened the 10th Tokyo International Arts Festival, Japan in February 2004 and the piece toured to Ustinov Studio, Bath, UK as part of the Bath Shakespeare Festival; Riverside Studios, London, UK; Seoul Performing Arts Festival, Seoul, South Korea; and Theater e Shahr, Kuwait.
2005 revival tour to Kronberg Castle, Elsinore, Denmark as part of the Hamlet Summer Festival; and Victoria Theatre, Singapore as part of the Singapore Arts Festival.

Awards
Edinburgh Festival Fringe First 2002 for Excellence and Innovation in Writing and Directing
Cairo International Festival of Experimental Theatre 2002 – Best Director
Cairo International Festival of Experimental Theatre 2002 – Best Performance

Director’s Note
Hamlet as an expression of politics…has been the driving force behind this work as it moved through its various stages of development that began in January 2001. The text is a cross-cultural piece of writing in which I have tried to capture a sense of geographical context and contemporary resonance. When first performed in English in 2002 by my London-based theatre company, Zaoum Theatre, it aimed to allow English-speaking audiences a richer understanding of the Arab world and its people, and how their fates are inextricably linked to that of the West’s.

Three years on and one war later, the Arabic language version that brings together actors from across the Arab world, seeks to probe a step further into the troubled heart of the modern day Middle East. I have endeavoured to avoid the polemic; favouring a concrete and poetic formulation of an Arab viewpoint. The style of writing combines aspects of the Arab oral poetry tradition with the rhetoric of modern-day politics. In directing the piece, I sought to bring out a precise and grotesque hyperrealism in the work.

The conference chamber that gradually slides into a war room directly illuminates the political setting of the piece. It is a huis-clos that parodies the so-called ‘transparency’ of today’s political processes and it is a deadly arena of internal conflict. It is not a piece about any specific country in the Arab world. Rather, it presents a composite of many Arab concerns that affect peoples from the Arabian Gulf to the Atlantic and beyond.

Sulayman Al-Bassam, 2004