Magnificent theatre artist and living legend Zia Mohyeddin has given Karachiites a treat with his latest direction of Shakespeare’s popular tragedy — Romeo and Juliet.
It is an Urdu adaptation for the masses translated by Khalid Ahmed — a versatile actor, director, and head of the National Academy of Performing Arts (Napa) theatre department. He has also translated King Lear and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
The play will run till June 26.
It’s been a full house from day one because of the magic of the extravagant theatre artists, scene-to-scene set changes and recreation of the 15th Century drawing inspiration from classic Italian styles for the costumes and the dramatic lighting.
The play included a lot of poems with similes, metaphors, and symbolism. Khalid Ahmed uses similes and metaphors that connect with Pakistan’s poetic tradition.
The play’s cast adored the theatre directing skills of Mohyeddin, sharing how thrilled they were to be working under his guidance.
“I enjoy working with Zia Mohyeddin as every script is unique and every time there is something new to learn. From contemporary to classic, he has different styles of directing plays,” said Samhan Ghazi, who played Friar Lawrence.
According to a faculty member, Fawad Khan, who played Mercutio in the play, Mohyeddin demands hard work and has a professional attitude.
Juliet was played by Naureen Gullwani. She studied theatre acting at Napa and has performed in several commercial plays. “I could connect to Juliet in depths as I could relate to her.
As a team, we have rehearsed several times to prepare. I rehearsed with Ali Sher who plays Romeo to make it natural and organic while keeping the sessence of classical delivery, which is the forte of Shakespeare’s plays,” she shared.
The story in a nutshell — not as a spoiler because most literature buffs are familiar with it. Juliet (Noreen Gulwani) and Romeo (Ali Sher) run into each other in Verona at a ball. Their love comes to the fore when Romeo doesn’t leave the premises of her house after finding her alone at the window (the celebrated balcony scene). It turns out that their families (Capulets and Montagues) are enemies.
The two, like most young people, are married secretly by Friar Lawrence (Samhan Ghazi). Tybalt (Mehroz Gul), a nephew of Lady Capulet (Zarqa Naz), is livid and wants to fight Romeo for showing romantic interest in Juliet. In the ensuing scuffle, Romeo’s friend Mercutio (Fawad Khan) gets killed. Angered by it, Romeo kills Tybalt. He is subsequently banished to Mantua by the Prince of Verona.
In the meantime, Juliet’s father Capulet (Farhan Alam) fixes her marriage with Count Paris (Aqeel Ahmed). Disturbed, the young Juliet looks to Friar Lawrence for help. He gives her a potion that will make her appear to be dead. She does that. Romeo, who has no idea about Friar’s plan because a letter that was supposed to reach him doesn’t get delivered to him, returns to Verona after hearing that Juliet has died. He faces Paris at Juliet’s tomb, kills him and finds Juliet in the burial vault. He kisses her for the last time and poisons himself to death. Juliet wakes up, sees the dead Romeo and kills herself, too.
Romeo and Juliet is, as critics have pointed out, about youthful potential ready to press the self-destruct button. Shakespeare sets the tone for the play in the prologue by suggesting that the air of the location where the story is set is suffused with hostility.
Two households, both alike in dignity, In fair Verona, where we lay our scene, From ancient grudge break to new mutiny, Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
From forth the fatal loins of these two foes A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life; Whose misadventured piteous overthrows Do with their death bury their parents’ strife.
It means action from the get-go. At the heart of it all, is love and its capability to destroy everything that comes in its way, including those who live to love. This is why the characters of Romeo and Juliet (the latter hath not seen the change of fourteen years — that’s how young she is) are central and germane to the basic idea.
Both the translation and direction of the play are enough to watch the story for. But when Fawad Khan as Mercutio, Bakhtawar Mahzar as Nurse, Rahil Siddiqui as Benvolio and Zarqa Naz as Lady Capulet overshadow, if not upstage, the young main characters with super impressive performances, it says something about the effort in entirety. Youth is associated with vivaciousness, vitality and friskiness — not to mention a penchant for amour. A young boy or a girl utters romantic words with the kind of passion that turn their whole existence into a giant, throbbing heart, and move on the face of earth with endearing frenzy.
The great English novelist Julian Barnes in his latest novel Elizabeth Finch that came out in April this year writes about the art of acting, “The perfect example of artificiality producing authenticity.” And the definition of authentic is: of undisputed origin.