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Aden - Yasmine El Tohamy - "Our separation so abides, and flies, That thou, residing here, goest yet with me, And I, hence fleeting, here remain with thee."
Separation: it has informed much of our existence since measures to contain the Covid-19 pandemic were implemented. Family members have been divided - sometimes by oceans - friends have been able to catch up less frequently than a solar eclipse darkens the sky and even those who venture out must keep an eye on red stickers enforcing a two-metre social distance.
For a communal experience like live theatre the results have been devastating. Audiences are kept from the auditoria, actors from the stage. Necessity, however, is the mother of invention and, just as quiz nights and coffee mornings have gone online to bridge the connection gap, so too have performances. Gone is the requirement for thesps to be in the same room, or even the same country, when video-calling platform Zoom brings everyone together in front of a paying crowd on one screen. This is the thinking behind Dubai director Liz Hadaway's Ashputtel, debuting on July 16. The updated Brothers Grimm Cinderella adaptation will unite two actors in London and five in Dubai and encourage audience participation from across the globe to bring this somewhat experimental and completely interactive live-streamed piece to fruition.
"It's definitely a coronavirus moment in my theatre-making," said Bark at a Crow (BAAC) theatre company founder Hadaway when asked if this endeavour had alays been in the pipeline. "I had been thinking about fairy tales for some time. I had an idea that I wanted to do an immersive event based on a number of traditional tales where different tales would be acted out in different rooms, then the lockdown happened... and I thought about how we could be creative during this period?"
Over the past decade Hadaway's BAAC has specialised in putting on shows in more avant-garde locales in the UAE. From Shakespeare on the roof of a Dubai mall to spooky skits in the bowels of historic liner the QE2. Frontiers, the writer/director believes, are made to be conquered and with Ashputtel she is looking to tame technology to banish mandated isolation.
"I'm co-producing with MXB Studios who are doing all the tech side," Hadaway said. "It has been a steep learning curve for me. I'm definitely a theatre director. My film experience is limited, but we've got there together.
"In my theatre I want the audience to become an integral part of the show and shape their own experiences."
Hadaway told us that upon purchasing a ticket (a Zoom code, which could cover an entire family if in the same house), the customer will be emailed a list of props - everyday household items - to have around them if they want to take part in the action.
"There will be moments where the audience is passive," said Hadaway, "but there are times where they will be asked to engage if they want to. You don't have to, but if you want to get involved the option is there."
In addition to enabling the local acting community to once again practice their passion, broadcasting the play over the Internet may inadvertently prove beneficial to the UAE's creatives. Not only will they get to share the virtual stage with a pair of UK actors, the entire planet now has the means to tune in and watch.
"It's suddenly an international market," Hadaway said. "Sometimes there can be a perception that things brought into Dubai are better than things created here. Now we're not importing, we're exporting. We're taking Dubai to the world instead of the other way round."
What's Ashputtel about?
Your screen is your portkey to an immersive adventure. Ashputtel tells the fantastical tale of a girl reduced to poverty and servitude by the manipulations of her new stepmother and stepsisters. Assisted by a mysterious forest creature, half-bird, half-tree, she is able to break free, run to the palace and attempt to win the heart of the Prince. Cameras will be on and microphones will be unmuted. Assist Ashputtel to complete her tasks, party at the palace and maybe even get even with her grasping, greedy stepsisters. This is a traditional tale, but it cleverly mixes the original text with modern language and twenty-first century references. Venetia Clark, a London based actress who plays the lead role of Ashputtel says, "This adaptation is interesting as it has taken a classic story and made it current, modernising it with relevant humour so the audience feels part of the play."
How can you watch?
Ashputtel will be on Zoom for five performances from July 16 - 18. Tickets are for sale at eventbrite.co.uk and barkatacrow.com and are priced from Dhs55 for one Zoom code. This means that any number of people living in the same household can watch and participate for the price of one ticket.
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