Monthly Archives: May 2012


Theatre under Occupation:

What does Shakespeare have to say to the Palestinians?

 A post-performance discussion with Ashtar Theatre from Palestine

Date: Friday 4 May 2012

Time: 17:30

Venue: Nancy Knowles Lecture Theatre, Shakespeare’s Globe, Bankside, London SE1

Ticket holders for Friday’s matinee performance of Shakespeare’s Richard II are invited to join Iman Aoun, artistic director of Ashtar, and other members of the cast in discussion with British theatre makers and their audiences.

ASHTAR is performing Richard II in Arabic at the Globe on May 4th and 5th, three weeks before the controversial performance of The Merchant of Venice in Hebrew by Habima, Israel National Theatre, as part of the Cultural Olympiad.

Places for the discussion following Friday’s matinee are limited, so admittance will be strictly on a first-come-first-served basis. If you want to put your name on a priority list, contact providing your ticket number or booking reference.

Tickets for the play can be booked online here or by phone on 020 7401 9919.

If booking for the Friday matinee you may be able to get a good deal by quoting “£10 matinee” over the phone or typing in “PCDMAT10” online.

If you can’t support Ashtar by attending their2.30 pmFriday show, please book to see their Saturday evening performance.

Below is a statement sent to media on Tuesday May 12.


West bank theatre company ASHTAR on Richard II and theatre under occupation

Controversy over the invitation to Israel’s National Theatre Habima to perform at Shakespeare’s Globe has highlighted the connection between art and politics.  Palestine’s ASHTAR theatre company is performing Richard II in Arabic on May 4th and 5th, three weeks before the performance of The Merchant of Venice in Hebrew by Habima.

On Friday 4th, the Globe is giving an additional platform to ASHTAR to explore the theme:  THEATRE UNDER OCCUPATION: WHAT DOES SHAKESPEARE HAVE TO SAY TO THE PALESTINIANS?  Artistic Director Iman Aoun will discuss the issues with their audience, including UK theatrical figures opposed to Habima’s involvement in the Cultural Olympiad.

Shakespeare’s Richard II is often regarded as an invitation to consider the nature and source of political authority and under what circumstances it is legitimate to resist. Aoun said “when you read the text you can see that something which happened 600 years ago has echoes of what’s going on in the world today. Those who are out of power can look as if they have integrity and are with the masses; once they gain power they are blinded by it.”

“Culture plays the most important role for us as Palestinians living under Israeli occupation,” said Aoun. She said Palestinians lack political and economic independence, but “in culture we’re creators and we are free. We have fought Israeli censorship for years. We can really show people that we are capable of life, able to invent and live despite hindrances, and that we have a voice; this is an important part of resistance.”

The discussion will take place in the Globe’s Nancy Knowles Lecture Theatre at5.30pm.  It will be open to audience members attending Friday’s matinee performance at 2.30pm.



ASHTAR Theatre was established in Jerusalem in 1991 as a non-profit organization by two prominent Palestinian actors, and is based in Ramallah. This April, Ashtar performed their production of Shakespeare’s Richard II in the open-air courtyard of the ruins of the 8th-century HishamPalace inJericho in the occupiedWest Bank: “We were full for all four performances. I was very happy – the place was beautiful and it really came alive!” said Ashtar’s artistic director, Iman Aoun. “Shakespeare resonates with audiences today because he understood the psychology of people, regardless of rank.” In general, she added, “Palestinians are not theatre goers by habit and that is why we developed a travelling system – we go to the audience wherever they are. We present plays that socially challenge an audience – they welcome the fact we tackle difficult issues.”

The Gaza Monologues

The Israeli attack on Gaza in December 2008-January 2009 led to the deaths of at least 1,380 Palestinians, amongst whom were 431 children. Ashtar’s production, the Gaza Monologues, was their artistic response: personal stories of a group of children from Gaza, performed simultaneously all over the world on17  October 2010 by 1,500 youngsters, and subsequently at the UN in November to mark the ‘International Day of Solidarity with the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People’. “The reception of the Gaza Monologues was incredible,” said Iman Aoun. “Many theatre organisations liked the idea and it was performed by over 60 companies in 36 countries. Those involved saw they had a part in stopping this madness. Everyone wanted to say: ‘Enough is enough!’ This is the role of art. Yet the Israeli Embassy in Norway and the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs tried to stop a performance in Norway.”

Culture and freedom

“Culture plays the most important role for us as Palestinians living under Israeli occupation – because we have failed on many levels: politically and economically we are dependent,” stated Aoun. “In culture, however, we’re creators and we are free – we have fought Israeli censorship for years. We can really show people that we are capable of life, able to invent and live despite hindrances, and that we have a voice; this is an important part of resistance. Resistance with words, self-expression, prevents your culture, art and heritage from being stolen. Israel tries to occupy everything, from land to embroidery to the food we eat.”

Building bridges through art?

“Art does build bridges; it brings people together. But we’re asking for a bit of sanity”, says Aoun, explaining: “At night Israeli artists want to perform with us and in the morning they serve in the army. What is the use of going on producing art when deep down they know they are breaking basic human rights by supporting the occupation and its apartheid regime and settlements? Israelis need to work inside their own society; changes have to occur on the ground inIsraelfor there to be real justice.”


Actors and directors including Emma Thompson, Mike Leigh, Mark Rylance and David Calder, have asked the Globe to withdraw the invitation to Habima, on the grounds that it colludes with the Israeli colonisation of occupied Palestinian territory by performing in illegal Israeli settlements. In the weeks since the March 30 publication in the Guardian of a letter signed by leading theatre names opposing the invitation to Habima, media debate about the cultural boycott issue has deepened and broadened.

Some of the responses have been hostile, for example a letter to the Guardian on April 21 from five MPs asserting claiming that it was no crime to perform in the illegal settlements since they were bound to be part of Israel in due course.  This argument was firmly repudiated in further letters on April 23.

Mainstream arts coverage has included the Economist arts blog Prospero.