Anglo-Kuwaiti writer-director Sulayman al-Bassam figured if there was “something rotten in the state of Denmark” back in the days when Shakespeare penned “Hamlet,” then the logical place to transpose the play today would have to be the troubled Mideast.
Al-Bassam’s “The Al-Hamlet Summit,” co-produced by the Tokyo Intl. Arts Festival, is set in an unnamed Arab state and replete with bushy-moustached dictators, terrorist explosions and shadowy arms dealers. It drips with timely resonance amid the ongoing war on terror.
“With ‘Hamlet’ you are looking at the dying days of an imperial order at a moment of historical change,” says Al-Bassam. “The Middle East is facing a great challenge over the determining of our future. We’re in that historical moment when we are looking at a period of great change.”
That resonance has drawn plenty of acclaim. During the play’s recently wrapped run at London’s Riverside Theater, critics raved about Ophelia’s climactic transformation into a suicide bomber and Hamlet’s conversion from playboy prince to bearded fundamentalist.
Now, the radical reinterpretation of the Bard is not only headed Stateside — to San Francisco’sexperimental theater company Beyond the Proscenium — Al-Bassam is also in negotiations with BBC Radio about adapting the piece into a radio play and he’s in talks with a producer in New York for an off-Broadway run.
Recent events have only made the work more relevant: Al-Bassam has just been invited to tour the production to Madrid — following the March 11 train bombing attack that killed 191 people — at an exhibition of Kuwaiti art set to be inaugurated by the king and queen of Spain.