Shakespeare in Kabul

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Photo by Kate Brooks

‘The late afternoon air was unusually soft for Kabul, especially in the garden where we stood. It was a few days after Naw Ruz, the Zoroastrian New year that falls on the first day of spring. Almond trees were in bloom, and their delicate scent was complemented by an angled light sifting over a small mountain nearby.’

Afghan people love poetry; it’s part of their soul. Afghanistan is a nation which has the profoundest respect for storytellers. Stephen Landrigan has just spoken at The Shakespeare Centre about a production of Love’s Labour’s Lost he worked on in Kabul in 2005. And I’ve just quoted the first sentence of his new book (co-authored with Qais Akbar Omar) all about it.

People thought it heralded a new beginning for the Afghanistan. Love’s Labour’s Lost was chosen in part because of its strong female roles. It was the first time anyone had known women to perform in Afghanistan, a compelling, rich, and dangerous cultural moment.

The production was directed by Corinne Jaber whose Afghan production of The Comedy of Errors forms part of the World Shakespeare Festival’s Globe to Globe programme at Shakespeare’s Globe.

On Shakespeare’s Birthday Haus Publishing brought out Shakespeare in Kabul, by Stephen Landrigan and Qais Akbar Omar. Qais is still waiting for his visa in Pakistan and is missing out on all the special events happening around his moving and beautiful account of an extraordinary moment in the international history of Shakespeare on stage.

Why Shakespeare? Why Love’s Labour’s Lost? Which language could it be translated into and acted in? How do you tell a story about romantic love in a culture which only arranges marriages? These are the sorts of discussions that occur throughout Shakespeare in Kabul.

Stephen intends to give a copy of the script and other materials relating to the production to The Shakespeare Centre Library and Archive in the not too distant future, hopefully accompanied by his co-author. Now that will be a moment worth celebrating.

I wish this book especially well because hearing Stephen talk about it reminded me of the freedoms that Shakespeare and poetry and drama make possible.

You can find out more about the project here. And you can listen to Stephen Landrigan talking to me about the project on this audioboo.

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Author:Paul Edmondson

Head of Research and Knowledge and Director of the Stratford-upon-Avon Poetry Festival for The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Follow Paul on Twitter @paul_edmondson
  • Guest

    Qais is in London, but only has a 3 week visa.  Can you help?  I just have an email from him.

  • Anonymous

    I was sorry when I knew I would have to miss this and even sorrier now that I’ve read/listened to your report.  There are two things that strike me as really interesting.  The first is the emphasis that is placed on poetry and storytelling in this culture and how that links to the discussion that took place with Amir Nizar Zuabi, the director of the current RSC Comedy of Errors in the Main House on Tuesday evening.  He was making the same point about the Palestinian culture and then linking it back to what was probably the case in Shakespeare’s England.  We are the ones who have lost out, I think, in loosing these vibrant means of connecting with the spoken word.  A second, though perhaps connected thought, is to do with the nature of the narrative shape of stories in different cultures.  It always seemed to me that one of things Philip Hensher’s novel, The Mulberry Empire, was about was the difference between the shaping, and therefore the understanding, of story in Britain and in Afghanistan and how consequently that influenced the ability of the two peoples to understand each other.    I would have loved to have asked Stephen Landrigan about that.

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