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Romeo and Juliet in Baghdad – Presenting Yourself With Impact

25th Jun, 2012

As you are probably aware, presenting yourself with impact is one of our areas of specialisation.  We were therefore intrigued by the latest offerings from the Royal Shakespeare Company in which overseas theatre companies produce their own versions of Shakespeare’s plays, in their own languages, as part of the Cultural Olympiad.

The most successful so far has been Romeo and Juliet in Baghdad.  The play was performed by the Iraqi Theatre Company in Stratford-upon-Avon in early May in Arabic with ‘English sur-titles’ and received rave reviews.

In this new adapted version of the familiar story, Romeo is a Shiite, Juliet a Sunni, and they must contend, not only with warring families, but also a country torn by conflict and sectarian strife.  This is the story of “Romeo and Juliet in Baghdad”.
Pistols have replaced swords and characters wear contemporary Iraqi clothing. The play has an Iraqi cast and an Iraqi director who also adapted the play – weaving in the conflict and suffering which Iraqis have had to live for the past nine years and more.

The ending is equally fitting and poignant.  The final scene is in a church and Romeo and Juliet, having finally got together, become victims of a suicide bomber.

For me, the play was a big success.  When I reflected afterwards I realised that this was due to a number of factors which are equally important for presenting ourselves with impact on or off the stage.

The many positives were:

–          It had an intriguing title.

–          It was stripped down to the bare bones of the plot.

–          It was short and succinct – just one act.

–          It used a story to tell a story.

–          The basic story was a familiar and relatively simple one.  (The story of Iraq, Baghdad and sectarianism between Sunnis and Shiites is equally fresh in our minds from news stories over the past nine years.)

–          The actors were acting from the heart – it was their story as much as Shakespeare’s.

–          The actors had clearly defined roles aided by dress and props to identify who was who.

–          The actors utilised all their skills to convey their message through body language and facial expression.  For much of the time you didn’t need the English sur-titles to understand what was going on.

–          The message connected at an emotional, as well as rational, level.

–          It had a surprise ending.

For me there was only one real negative – the sur-titles on large screens were, at times, hard to keep up with.  And I felt there was a message here too – how often do we overload Powerpoint slides so that their ‘busyness’ detracts from our message?

How many of these ideas can you use to present yourself with more impact?

Food for thought?