- Special Pages
By Isabel Ovalle
Qatar’s oldest amateur theatre group, The Doha Players, will premiere ‘The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)’ tomorrow at Qatar National Theatre. The performance will take place on Thursday and Friday starting at 7.30pm, and is part of the programme of Qatar UK 2013 Year of Culture. Tickets for the show are priced at QR75 and are on sale at The One stores in Villaggio and Landmark.
Three people will take all of Shakespeare’s 37 plays and 1,222 characters and squeeze them into a 97-minute performance, going from Romeo and Juliet to Hamlet, including Shakespeare’s biography and sonnets in an irreverent comedy.
The co-director of the play, Dr Kim Sturgess, Assitant Professor of English Literature at Qatar University, explained that this weekend’s show was “a comedy of errors, of how three people try to be over 1,200 characters”. In the meantime, behind the scenes, about 20 volunteers will take care of everything else.
The Doha Players is completely amateur, with about 350 members, all of whom live in Qatar and are enthusiastic about theatre in all its forms, given that there are also people that take care of makeup, lightening and costumes among other tasks.
The group was founded in 1954, starting with performances in villas. Now it performs about three or four plays a year at different venues. The players will also put together a musical that should be ready in May. Past performances of The Doha Players include ‘Grease’ and ‘Woman in Black’.
Sturgess, who has been a member for one year, said, “there are no qualifications to be part of The Doha Players, but most members like to go to the theatre”.
To cast the actors for this show, about 30 applicants were auditioned and three were chosen as the most suitable for the roles.
Potential members can approach The Doha Players by different channels like Facebook or the group’s website. They are then invited to the villa where the members frequently gather to socialise, host comedy nights and arrange all sorts of opportunities to get together.
The cast has been working since December to put together the play. “We enjoy being amateurs, we’re happy being amateurs because people enjoy what we can offer them and they don’t need the West End or New York, they have Doha,” Sturgess joked.
The audience for the group’s plays is a reflection of the population of the country, explained Sturgess. “There are Qataris too who enjoy theatre, but we’re hoping to see a number of students tomorrow as well.”
For Sturgess, one of the wonderful aspects of living in Doha is the possibility to participate in groups like this, “There are lots of opportunities for people who have a full-time job to play around,” he said. The National Theatre has 500 seats and The Doha Players expects them to be sold out.
On his part, the other co-director, Farris Bukhari, said: “This play makes Shakespeare fun and approachable to people from all walks of life.”
For Bukhari, “there is no point performing a play that is so interactive if local customs and popular culture are not included or at least taken into account.”
Ousama Itani from Lebanon is one of the three actors in the play. “The overall idea of the play is that three actors are going to put on a performance that will include all of Shakespeare’s work,” he said, adding that it will be his debut with Doha Players. However, he’s not nervous, thanks to all the work put into the show. “You have a certain degree of excitement, but at the moment not so much nerves.”
Rowan Denny, one of the actresses in the cast together with Samantha McGill, said “it really helps to do a trial performance to find out if it is genuinely funny.”
For this Canadian teacher, the first chance to act came with the university. “I was really shy, but it really helped me get out of my shell. Sometimes, shy people are really good on the stage, it can be really liberating,” she stated.
Ultimately, these actors provide Doha with a unique product that fills a void that no other group can. Besides, the members from different professional sectors and nationalities reflect the overall community, which is overwhelmingly dominated by expatriates.
Rowan Denny has always dreamed of being able to say she was a part of staging the Bard’s complete works. This is Rowan’s second performance with Doha Players; she played the wonderfully sassy Gwendolyn in The Importance of Being Earnest.
Samantha McGill is from London and has always been involved in theatre. As a child, she attended a prominent London theatre school and appeared in numerous television ads, radio plays and theatre performances. On graduating from theatre school, she went straight into a West End production of ‘Hello Dolly!’ starring Lionel Jeffries. She then appeared in repertory theatre in Exeter in the original cast of ‘Sherlock Holmes’, the musical, among other productions. Since moving to the Middle East seven years ago with her husband and two young sons, she has taught musical theatre and performance to children in the community.
Ousama Itani is a Lebanese-American actor, comedian, sailor, equestrian and canary breeder who, when time permits, works in Al Jazeera’s New Media department. This is his debut performance with The Doha Players. With a start in musical theatre at the age of seven, Ousama has performed regularly for audiences for over 20 years, focusing on musicals, comedies and generally hamming it up.
Soon after moving to Doha two years ago, Ousama joined forces with Stand-Up Comedy Qatar. The opportunity to perform in The Complete Works was a delightful surprise for Ousama, who had almost given up hope of ever performing on stage again.