Haya and Jamil reviewed: Modernisation or Mutilation of Romeo and Juliet?

Following my interview with Phillipe Bosher, director of Saturday’s production of Haya and Jamil, I have to admit I couldn’t have been more excited to see the play. Bosher described with enthusiasm how Nathalie Sumhar had taken Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and brought it right up to date with a setting in modern day Palestine/Israel.

Yet, on Saturday the concept remained just that, a concept. The script itself failed to realise the potential of this reworking of Shakespeare’s most famous work. At moments the script was stilted, and tried desperately to stick to the bard’s original plot, even if it meant introducing moments of nonsense to tie the script together.

For example, the script saw Haya and Jamil divided by religion, so when it came to marriage, it demanded that the lovers not only abandon their religious beliefs but also convert to Catholicism in order to be wed. Quite understandably this moment of sheer Dadaism caused an outcry of nervous laughter from the audience, who didn’t quite know how to react.

Indeed it was moments like these which left me undecided as to whether this was supposed to be a spoof of Romeo and Juliet set tastelessly in Palestine or an incredibly thoughtful piece of social commentary.

Regardless, what was certain was that something went wrong with the extent to which Sumhar had reworked the Shakespearean original. So much so, that the entire ending of the play had been reworked out of its usually touching finale.

Rather than sticking to the original plot, where the couple commit suicide causing their families to reconcile, Haya and Jamil saw the Juliet figure commit suicide before a Hamas bomb exploded killing the Romeo figure and all of their respective family members.

The overall effect was one of complete bemusement. I didn’t know whether to be outraged by the mutilation of Shakespeare’s dramatic concept, or pass it off as a piece of deep symbolism which flew straight over my head.

In terms of the production itself, many of the actors really shone, despite the script. Izzie Price as Haya (the Juliet equivalent) was a highlight, with a rather intense vulnerability that was really very moving. Similarly, Joe Burke’s Jamil had moments of brilliance, particularly in portraying the emotional conflict between loyalty to his brother and his wife following his brother’s murder.

Yet all of their work was undermined by the production’s incredibly rough edges. The audience sat though extended periods of darkness whilst the scenes changed, the unbearably cheesy music choices that would have been the envy of Klute, and glitches in lighting that saw two of the main cast carry a bench offstage whilst the audience sat in silence, watching them.

But that’s just the view of one rather cynical audience member. In fact, I can’t help but wonder if I’ve gotten the wrong end of the stick, as, despite all of its flaws, Haya and Jamil did achieve its underlying aim: to get people talking not only about the conflict, but also about the role which the media plays in providing a twisted version of events.

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