at Shakespeare’s Globe, Friday 4th May 2012
Ashtar Theatre’s production of Richard II opens with the brutal murder of Gloucester, who loiters on stage for a moment as the play begins, haunting the memories of his killers. Throughout the entire play, whenever a murder occurs, the dead are left hanging around, as if taking back stolen time, and under Conall Morrison’s direction, the play serves as a clear mirror for modern-world dictatorships and means of resisting them.
The overall aesthetic is clearly contemporary military, and Richard rules his state with a firm hand. Sami Metwasi’s effeminate king is vein, fallible and petty, only listening to those who tell him what he wants to hear. After an Arab Spring-style resistance, which has bought in the seemingly more sensible Bolingbroke (Nicola Zreineh) it becomes clear he will not offer a kinder way of ruling. The powerful will always oppress is the implication.
The discussion of land and oppression in this play become particularly apparent in the hands of the Palestinian company. Richard’s determination to annex lands which don’t rightfully belong to him seem extraordinarily pertinent, and Bolingbroke’s capitulation that he is to make his own journey to the Holy Land is wonderfully current. Brilliantly, however, the tone of this production comes across optimistically; in the end, it seems to say, the people will always have their way.
Backgrounding the astonishing work of Metwasi is a strong company of actors, who work with intense levels of passion. Aside from Zreineh’s cold, cunning Bolingbroke, there are also good performances from George Ibrahim as a selfless but misguided York and Hussein Nakhleh’s quite underhand Gaunt. Bayan Shbib’s Queen gives an emotional portrayal of how those left and home are effected.
With music by Trio Jubran giving a driving force to proceedings, Ashtar’s company have an extraordinary energy throughout, pushing forward into what promises to be a better future. This isn’t a production directly about Palestine and its situation, but is an offering to all those who have had or are currently having their freedoms rebuked by petty and squabbling politicians, exhibiting a hope that one day no-one will have to endure life without their liberty.