MULTICULTURAL THEATRE | We all have to ask: 'To be or not to be'

Cabramatta West actor Adeeb Razzouk originally studied Shakespeare in Arabic in drama school in Damascus, in Syria. He's thrilled to be able to perform in Hamlet in Shakespeare's native language. He plays Laertes in the current production staged by the multicultural Foreign Actors Association from November 22 to 24 at the Tom Mann Theatre, 136 Chalmers Street, Surry Hills. Tickets: trybooking.com/BGAIT.

INTERVIEW

Hamlet is one of the most famous plays ever written -- why is that? The popularity of Shakespeare's texts to this present day is one of the most important proofs that the theatrical arts are relevant, representing the permanence of people and characters and their human conflicts, thoughts and passions. Previously, I'd acted in several Shakespeare plays during my studies at the Higher Institute of Dramatic Arts in Damascus, Syria, and I was always looking for more than one Arabic translation of the script. I had this experience with Macbeth, Hamlet, King Lear and A Midsummer Night's Dream. When I had doubts about the translation, I always went back to the English text to make sure I was getting it right in Arabic. This is the first time I've played Shakespeare in his native language and I can say it's one of the most enjoyable times for me. My relationship with Shakespeare began from my beginning in acting, the first monologue I did in my acceptance test was from Macbeth. During my studies at the institute, Shakespeare's works were rich texts for discussion. Magic of a special kind.

Give us the plot in a nutshell. After the death of his father the king, Hamlet junior returns to the palace in Denmark to attend the wedding of his mother to his uncle, now king of Denmark. The ghost of the murdered king tells Hamlet his uncle poured poison in his ear and killed him. Hamlet decides to avenge the murder. He decides to engage a theatre troupe to present events similar to what the ghost said to the new king and queen. Meanwhile, it's rumored that Hamlet has gone mad. The ghost re-appears after Polonius is killed by Hamlet in the queen's room. Ophelia, Hamlet's beloved, and the daughter of Polonius, can't bear abandoning Hamlet, and at the news of her father's death ends her life in the river. Laertes returns to the kingdom after the news of the death of his father Polonius and with the support of the king poisons the sword that will serve him in the duel. The play ends with lots of terrible deaths and Horatio telling us Hamlet's story.

This production is a multicultural production -- how so? The producers, the Association of Foreign Actors, has cultural diversity among the cast and crew. Shakespeare is very relevant to all cultures. You can see Macbeth in Syria and King Lear in the Egyptian countryside as a TV series and we're performing Hamlet in Australia, also a culturally diverse country.

Whom do you play? I play Laertes, Hamlet's friend, Ophelia's brother and Polonius's son. He comes to the kingdom for the coronation and returns to France. After the news of his father's death he returns to Denmark and gets news of his sister's death and decides to take revenge and help the new king achieve his goal. Laertes hopes to avenge the death of his father and sister but he has a lot of questions troubling his head and heart. And anger.

It's one of the most quoted plays -- what are your favorite lines here? My mother passed away last month after a long fight with cancer in the spinal cord. And her last moments were the heaviest moments of my life. No matter how long the last goodbye, it's really never enough. There's a line that Laertes says at his sister's burial: "Hold off the earth awhile, till I have caught her once more in mine arms." What Laertes says here sums up a lot of what's inside me.

As an actor, how can you deliver something so well known and familiar with freshness and relevance? I work on it! Every actor is a unique person and has worlds and dimensions he hasn't discovered in himself yet. Since I began this professional journey I've found the real richness in this experience comes from life and what we go through, so every role is a real test for me as a performer and I get to continually work on my tools as an actor, my self-development, that's what I'm working on.

Which suburb do you live in and do you have other work? I live in Cabramatta West and Hamlet is my second play since I arrived in Australia seven months ago. I've been working on a performance for almost two years -- I started preparing for it in Beirut. It moved with me to Sydney and now I'm in the final stages. I'm like any independent artist who aspires to live from his work, but it's difficult and, yes, you have to do another job to pay the bills. Currently, I'm looking for a job, and hoping to stay in the arts.

The South-West is one of the most multicultural areas in Australia -- how relevant do you think Hamlet is to those of non-Euro backgrounds? Hamlet poses one of the most important questions facing us all in all our lives: "To be or not to be." It is, indeed, a heavy existential question, despite its linguistic simplicity, but it's the line between submission and surrender, and free will and its consequences. And this conflict is within everyone, regardless of where we are and where we come from.

  • Foreign Actors Association's Hamlet runs November 22 to 24 at Tom Mann Theatre, 136 Chalmers Street, Surry Hills. Tickets: trybooking.com/BGAIT.

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