A maestro stroke

July 3, 2022

Romeo and Juliet staged by the NAPA has brought joy to the audiences. The play stayed close to the local language without losing out the details of the English version

A maestro stroke


fter a long break owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, the National Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA)has made a comeback with a bigproduction, an Urdu version of one of the most popular plays by William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet. The romantic tragedy about two Italian star-crossed lovers, was directed by the NAPA President Emeritus Zia Mohyeddin.It was translated by Khalid Ahmed, the head of theatre at the NAPA. The academy has previously featured several Urdu versions of Shakespeare also translated by Ahmed, including A Midsummer Night’s Dream and King Lear. The tragedy was played to a full house every scheduled day.A matinee show was added on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

In Verona, Italy, the two powerful houses of Capulet and Montague are engaged in an ancient feud, demanding loyalty from friends and family on both sides. The Prince warns the people not to be violent or they would be sentenced to death. The teenager, JulietCapulet, and the lovesick RomeoMontague fall in love at first sight at a feast that the latter has gate crashed with his friends. The twomarry in secret with the help of Friar Lawrence. Tybalt, Juliet’s cousin, kills a friend of Romeo’s in a fight. To avenge his friend’s death, Romeo is goaded into fighting with Tybalt, who is stabbed and killed. Eventually, Romeo, instead of receiving the death sentence, is sent into exile to Mantua. Meanwhile, Capulet wants Juliet to marry Count Paris. Juliet conspires with Friar Lawrence to escape a second marriage. The play ends when all three, Romeo, Juliet and Count Paris die amid confusion and misunderstanding. Both the families realise the error of their ways and resolve to make amends.

Romeo and Julietis full of high emotion, humour, action and drama. Khalid Ahmed’s spectacular Urdu version echoeslife and depth of the original so that the essence of the play is not lost in translation. In fact, the play transcends boundaries to reach a wider audienceof theatre lovers. ZiaMohyeddinas a director wowed the audiences yet again with his uncompromising commitment to bring the best to the stage. The play stayed close to the local language without losing out details of the English version.

Speaking to The News on Sunday(TNS), UzmaSabeen, the assistant director, said, “I am honoured to have worked alongside Zia Mohyeddin. As demanding as he is, one is always learning something from him. He is extremely particular about the minutest of details. I am from one of the earliest batches of NAPA trainees and have directed several plays.Still, I still feel that I have a lot to learn from Ziasahib. He takes his craft very seriously, be it voice, diction, stresses, accent, dialogue delivery, pauses, language. He also takes time management very seriously. We had 32 cast members and it was important to align all on one page. Whenever one is planning a production led by Zia sahib, one ensures that everything, from set designing, lighting, to costume and sound design is planned from the beginning. Even before the rehearsals began, we had sat down with the technical team to create a visualneeded for the production. Usually, in Pakistan theatre teams hire the actors first, followed by the technical crew. Most do not intend to explore or improve the technical details. Very few theatre professionals here pursue a career in costume design, set design, light design or sound design. Almost everyone wants to be an actor. The high level of professionalism from Zia sahib is the only way forward to uplift the theatre and performing arts as an industry.”

Romeo was played by Ali Sher, who is a sophomore theatre studentat the NAPA. His performance was slightly underwhelming compared to Juliet, played by Noreen Gulwani, Mercutio, played by Fawad Khan, a faculty member, and Anna played by Bakhtawar Mazhar with her motherly, protective and heartwarming moments as Juliet’s nanny. The romance and tragedy were the dominant force with impressive and deeply layered elaborations. “A lot of research and effort can be seen in terms of sound, costume, set and light design. Every scene had a background that clearly portrayed the enacted scene, whether it was the church, the graveyard or the ballroom scene, transporting you to the 15thCentury Italy. The dance choreography alone took two monthsof rigorous rehearsals, as many of the actors were non-dancers. We also hired a fightchoreographer for the actionscenes,” said UzmaSabeen.

Talking about working with the maestro, Zia Mohyeddin, ZarqaNaz, who played Lady Capulet,said, “working with Zia sahib is like being really hungry and being presented with a platter full of delicious treats. I tried to perfect the Urdu language, diction, accent and delivery. Productions like these are far and few between in Pakistan, as they are extremely difficult to enactin terms of voice, behavior and body language. My body of work consists largely of comedy plays. This was my first time acting in a romantic tragedy – quite a challenge. I feel lucky to have worked in the huge project directed by an expert of enormous stature. I can only hope to have done justice to the character as Zia sahib wanted it portrayed.”

Romeo and Juliet was packed with excellent dialogues, dramatic transitions,perfect light design, impeccable expressions, beautiful romance, viciousclashes and brilliant poetry.

The author is the  publishing editor at   Liberty Books.

A maestro stroke