SABAB THEATRE
SULAYMAN AL BASSAM


The Icarus Cycle 
I M E D E A
Ur

The Border Cycle
Petrol Station 
In the Eruptive Mode

The Arab Shakespeare Trilogy
The Al Hamlet Summit        
     Richard III – An Arab Tragedy 
The Speaker’s Progress

Other works
Ritual for a Metamorphosis
Hayyal Bu Tair
A Mirror for Princes
Melting the Ice
Trading 
60 Watt Macbeth 
The Game Show 
Everyman

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SABAB THEATRE
S
ULAYMAN AL BASSAM
The Al Hamlet Summit, 2001-05
Running time, 95 minutes
Performed in English and Arabic

Premiere: 

English L anguage Version:
The Pleasance Dome, Edinburgh UK (2002 ).

Arabic Language Version:
Tokyo International Arts Festival, Japan (2004 ).


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

Tours:

Edinburgh, Cairo, Tokyo, Bath, London, Seoul, Kuwait, Elsinore, Singapore.

Press & Media:
“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)

“This work is about as original and pulse-quickening as you could wish.
The Times, UK, 12 March 2004 (Donald Hutera)

“Staged with hypnotic force”
The Independent, UK, 11 March 2004 (Paul Taylor)

“astonishing, electrifying…I doubt whether this year’s Festival will produce another show so directly relevant to the nightmare that is brewing in the Middle East, or so vivid and eloquent in the theatrical means it uses to confront it.”
The Scotsman, UK, 8 August 2002 (Joyce MacMillan)

“Al-Hamlet is a superbly constructed dramatisation of a society’s descent into fundamentalism and chaosurgent, vital; sublime.
The Sunday Herald, Scotland, August 2002 (Tim Abrahams)

“a disarming mix of Arab oral poetry and modern political rhetoric”
The Financial Times, UK, 10 March 2004 (Alistair Macaulay)

“Al-Bassam daringly transposes Shakespeare’s classic play to modern Middle Eastern setting”
The Daily Star, Lebanon, 29 March 2004 (Ali Jaafar, Outlook) 

Hamlet Bin Hamlet. Sulayman Al Bassam fuses Shakespeare with the Middle East
Emerging Kuwait, 2006 

Academic Reviews:
“Sulayman Al Bassam’s experiments in the adaptation of Shakespearean drama seem at first glance to be mainly concerned with the sphere of politics…At the same time, Al Bassam is clearly trying to do something else with Shakespeare, something that goes beyond political parallels and ironic commentary on the state of the Middle East. He is attempting to create new kinds of theatrical language and new forms of cultural mediation.
European Journal of English Studies, 2006 (Graham Holderness)
Full abstract: Silence Bleeds

When the villain steals the show: the character of Claudius in post-1975 Arab(ic) Hamlet adaptations (Margaret Litvin)
Journal of Arabic Literature XXXVIII, 2, 2007







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.  


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.

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