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Saturday May 18, 2024

What to expect from Zia Mohyeddin’s Romeo & Juliet

By Amina Baig
June 18, 2022

Karachi : A performance like Romeo & Juliet may seem redundant in 2022. We’ve come – if not entirely to the other side – through a global pandemic. There have been political shakeups and wars and rich men traveling to space and scientific breakthroughs and notable births and deaths, and finally a new season of Stranger Things. So why are we still being offered a performance of a Shakespearean play that is about, quite frankly, the most ridiculous romantic couple of all time.

Well obviously, you would firstly watch it to experience a Zia Mohyeddin play. Really, sometimes we just watch things for the experience, not because they align with our tastes or politics. Secondly, watching theater is a really good way to acquaint yourself with the classics. Not all of us are equipped to actually get through the entire Three Sisters manuscript or find ourselves connecting to problems of rich, old, white Americans from the South.

On that count, Romeo & Juliet doesn’t disappoint for a second. You can see the Mohyeddin stamp across every gesture, diction, projection. All actors display an energy even when completely still, which lends the production a richness you might find lacking in other performances.

Then, sometimes you will watch things because they are entertaining. We promise you that the NAPA rendition of Romeo & Juliet is nothing but. Translated to Urdu by Khaled Ahmad, the dialogue maintains its integrity and form. The jokes – and when we say jokes, please realize there are a lot of references to male genitalia here – translate to Urdu without sounding vulgar, which is a feat and a half, because everything even slightly offensive can sound so much worse in your native language.

And finally, you have the people who bring it all to life. Everyone might have a different opinion on whether the casting was correct or based on unimportant factors, but here are the people to look out for:

Bakhtawar Mazhar as Juliet’s nanny, anna. She plays the protective caretaker with a slightly lascivious turn of phrase and manner with as much grace as the character can have.

Fawad Khan as Mercutio is spot on as the guy who goes on long, sarcastic rants when there’s a difference of opinion. His movement and delivery have always been good, and are about to arrive at ‘work of art’ status sometime soon.

Raheel Siddiqui plays Romeo’s best friend, Benvolio, and is appropriately supportive and sentimental, and would just be so perfect for television.

Ali Sher, who plays Romeo is two things at once: physically he is basically a very youthful Zia Mohyeddin, which could explain why he was cast in the role.

The way he plays Romeo gathers in every annoying quality of a prince in love you could ever find in literature. Shahzada Saleem, e.g., is just lame in how often he takes to his bed to mope. Similarly, Ali Sher as Romeo is not just in love, he comes across as secretly convinced that he/his love is doomed. This obviously means he played it right, by the way.

And hilarious, just with his silent presence at times, is Mohammad Arsalan as the Capulet’s domestic, Peter. His facial expression is pure gold.

The sets are elaborate, mobile, and we hope, reusable, because they could not have come cheap. With impeccable transitions and light design, you have yourself a very well-rounded, if a bit ‘why are we still investing time in a three-day-long romance that ends in unnecessary death?’ work of theater, which you must watch.