LONDON (AFP) ― A rousing haka war cry by Maori actors kicked off a marathon programme of 37 Shakespeare plays in 37 languages on Monday as a cultural curtainraiser for the 2012 London Olympics.
The Ngakau Toa theatre company, who launched the festival on Monday evening with their performance of “Troilus and Cressida,” shook London’s Globe Theatre with the rhythmic stamping and cries made famous by New Zealand’s rugby team.
The actors’ tattooed thighs were an unusual sight at the Globe, a replica of the 16th century playhouse on the south bank of the River Thames that presented many of Shakespeare’s plays during his own lifetime.
Other highlights of the Globe to Globe festival will include a South Sudanese version of “Cymbeline,” a performance of “The Comedy of Errors” by Afghan actors, and “Richard III” by the National Theatre of China.
Deaf actors will also present “Love’s Labours Lost” in British Sign Language.
The festival runs until June 9 as part of cultural celebrations leading up to the Olympics, which open on July 27.
“It’s probably one of the most ambitious festivals of all time,” festival director Tom Bird told AFP, adding that a key aim was to attract London’s many linguistic communities to the theatre.
“The other thing is to show that Shakespeare isn’t really an English poet,” he said. “He’s become a part of world culture.”
Bird said unrest and censorship in several of the 37 countries contributing performers had made it “a real challenge” to set up the festival.
“We have a group from Afghanistan who had its rehearsals interrupted by an attack on the British Council in Kabul (last August), we have the group from South Sudan where there’s fighting at the moment,” he said.
“And then there’s the Belarus Free Theatre, who have to work completely underground because they’re banned for criticising the regime.”
“The variety of the whole thing is what I’m most proud of,” he said. “It’s like having 37 children.”