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Still of The Speaker's Progress, by Sulayman al-Bassam
Still of The Speaker’s Progress, by Sulayman al-Bassam

From the 1950s to the 1990s Kuwait had a theatre life similar to that of Egypt, Syria, and Iraq, sponsored by a supportive government. The city boasted several well-equipped modern theatre buildings. But here too the Iraqi invasion and subsequent political changes took their toll. Theatre life is now struggling, except for comedy theatre, and some of the buildings are in disrepair.

The most internationally prominent Kuwaiti theatre director and playwright is Sulayman al-Bassam (1972), although he is based mostly in London, where he founded the Zaoum theatre company, with a homeland branch, the Sulayman al-Bassam Theatre Kuwait. Famous productions that have toured internationally include The Al-Hamlet Summit and Richard III, an Arab Tragedy, which transpose Shakespeare’s plots dealing with intrigues (including murder) between factions inside medieval ruling families, into what resembles a present-day court in some Gulf State. Some found the effect superficial, catering, in fact, to prejudices among a Western audience. While the producers claim they want to break through stereotypes, the plays instead confirmed them. These productions are seldom staged in any Gulf State.

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