From London to Beirut, the Faction co-artistic director Mark Leipacher tells Nick Awde about rehearsing and producing theatre across six countries
In an innovative, international approach to production, a UK theatre company and a Lebanese director are bringing Shakespeare to the stage in a way many will not have seen before.
After collaborating on Al-Malik Lear, an Arabic version of King Lear in Beirut, London-based company the Faction and Sahar Assaf are working on Pericles, Prince of Tyre.
Lebanon being the ancient Phoenician setting for Tyre, it was the geographical fit that appealed and provided the jumping-off point to cast Lebanese actors as Phoenician characters. “From there the question became who gets to play the Greek, Libyan, Syrian, Turkish and English characters,” the Faction’s co-artistic director Mark Leipacher says. “The vision for a transnational and multilingual production working with actors and directors in each country soon followed.” The result is a production developed across six countries.
In July, the Faction was in Beirut to work on the Lebanese unit – the three scenes set in Lebanon – with Sahar directing a cast of one Syrian and five Lebanese actors. A further six units will take place across the next six months: Greek, Libyan, Syrian, Turkish, British and ‘international’.
“We’ll then assemble the team in one location for a work-in-progress performance for the international festival market and large-scale producers. This will lead to a tour in 2021 and 2022,” says Leipacher, who co-directs with fellow artistic director Rachel Valentine Smith.
Al-Malik Lear, in 2016, was the first Shakespeare production to be performed in Lebanese Arabic (Amiyya) rather than the formal ‘elevated’ language (Fus-ha) common to all Arabic-speaking countries.
In between the two productions, the Faction worked in Lebanon with Lebanese and Syrian artists in a series of workshops, and was commissioned by the British Council to open the inaugural Lebanese European Theatre Festival with a production of My Name Is Rachel Corrie.
Although Pericles is a dauntingly large-scale project, the individual units make it easier to manage. A lot of the strategic planning takes place on Skype. The most complicated unit will be Libya due to the current political situation. The Faction is not allowed to travel there, and the unit director Khalifa Abo Khraisse was recently displaced and is now based in Rome.
“So the Skype planning is taking place between Libya, Italy, the UK and Tunisia, where the team for the unit will assemble in Tunis,” explains Leipacher. “Khalifa will travel to Tripoli and work with the Libyan actors, and then we bring the Libyan team to Tunisia, lead actor Fouad Yammine from Lebanon [as Pericles travels to Libya], and myself and Rachel from the UK.”
The Lebanese unit was created in association with Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre, where Faction is an associate company. “For the Lebanese unit we ran a digital rehearsal room, live-streaming and sharing behind-the-scenes footage and interviews on shared social media platforms,” says Leipacher.
It plans to hold a live-stream question-and-answer session between the Lebanese and Syrian team and an SJT audience, by the end of the year.
So is there an audience for this sort of thing in UK? “Absolutely,” says Leipacher. “We’ve already found a digital audience engaging with the first phase of the project, connecting Beirut and Scarborough.
“We’re looking forward to further partnerships between UK theatres and the other countries involved. With more than 300 different languages spoken in the UK, this is an exciting time to be sharing global work with diverse UK audiences.”