His extensive catalogue of theatre credits may belie his relative youth, but it pays testament to a wealth of experience. Having spent his formative years in the United Kingdom, he was brought up on a diet of English literature and passionate performances. From the land of Shakespeare, he’s bringing those same influences into play in the world of the theatrical arts in Kuwait. We spoke to Hamad not long after he stepped out of the stage door, fresh from his success with December’s production of ‘Sweeney Todd – The Demon Barber of Fleet Street’.
From his earliest roles in England for The Italian Straw Hat (2003); A Midsummer Night’s Dream (2004); The Scarlet Pimpernel (2005); and Romeo and Juliet (2006) Hamad moved to Kuwait in 2007 and was soon involved at the highest level of theatre with Harriet Bushman’s 2008 musical adaptation of Marietta Philips’ The Dream Dealer, directed by Alison Shan Price. His prodigious talent was quickly spotted, and he landed his first lead in this play, an experience that would also take him to Edinburgh’s famed Fringe Festival. Hamad received a Distinction at Gold Medal Level in Musical Theatre and Gold Medal level Acting in LAMDA (London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art) Examinations in Kuwait he’s set his sights on inspiring a new level of appreciation for, and enjoyment of, theatre in Kuwait and beyond.
From 2008 until now, it’s been a typically short and direct theatrical route and series of mutually-beneficial collaborations that Hamad has followed.
Hamad has played major Shakespearean characters including Iago (Othello), Oberon (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) and Cassius (Julius Caesar) in Kuwait. In 2013 he co-directed his first show The Woman in Black at Boxhill Theatre. In 2015 Hamad won the part of King Creon when One World Actors Centre represented Kuwait at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2015 with the 4-star bilingual Antigone, an Arabian Tragedy based on the play Antigone by Jean Anouilh and which was filmed by Al Arabia TV. The show was nominated for an Amnesty International Award. Hamad returned to the Fringe in 2016 as The Father in One World Actors Centre’s The Blue Box – Memories of Children of War which received 5 star ratings. Based on the stories of The Blue Box by teenager Emma Abdullah, the show raised thousands of dollars for charities and talks are underway in regard to a forthcoming tour. In each role Hamad imbibes his characters with truth and humility.
Notable for his input with the One World Actors Centre UK, he works closely with its Founder and CEO Alison Shan Price who says of him, “Hamad Al Jenaie personifies the word ‘professional’ in the field of theatrical arts not only as a performer or producer but also in his generosity towards drama students at One World Actors Centre”.
Keen to engage local audiences, his attention and interest turned towards musicals. Kuwait had enjoyed many lower-key musicals over the years, and has showed an eagerness for the genre whenever the opportunity arose.
“In 2014 we performed Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita to sell-out audiences”, he recalls. “That’s when I began to realise that people’s appetite for musicals had returned. I felt that theatre here needed to offer something beyond the dance shows that have become a staple of entertainment. I saw that we had an opportunity to perform something new. It was a tough challenge we set ourselves, but I knew it would help focus a lot of attention on us and on the growth of theatre in Kuwait”.
A tough challenge indeed – but one for which audiences have thanked him and the One World Actors Centre in droves – the recent performances of Sweeney Todd were also sold out… and long before opening night.
“This was a show that I’d been turning over in my mind for the past ten years. I felt this was a show that would go over well here. It’s a great musical, and a two-hundred-year-old story. It’s almost become a legend”.
Between himself and Alison (who would ultimately direct the show), along with Kuwait’s artistic power-couple of Harriet and Richard Bushman (with the Ahmadi Music Group), they decided to secure the rights to perform the show in 2016.
For Hamad, the challenge would be intense – not only did he produce the show, he also took the lead role. A tricky balancing act ensued, but he approached this as he does every aspect of life – in detail.
“To do this right, it was clear I’d have to know the story, inside-out”, he says. “Each character, every setting. But remember this story has been in my mind for the past decade. I felt I already knew every character”.
Based on the Tony and Grammy award-winning Broadway production, it would be a difficult show to produce –- but he never doubted it’s success. A key to this was the strong team that developed within the production – the actors, the director, the technical and support teams – Hamad is keen to stress that each played a highly valuable role and highlighted the work of production designer Diana Sfeir for her support, as well as choreographer Yousef Al Nasser and Balqis Duvall who played Mrs Lovett so wonderfully well.
Far from seeing his work within English-language theatre in an Arabic-speaking region as divisive, he sees his work as complementary. A huge supporter of Arabic-theatre, he sees great similarity between both, and indeed is keen to mix both when the opportunity arises – witness the earlier performances of Blue Box and Antigone. “What we achieved in both of those was something very unexpected. And a big success judged by the responses. We added a new dimension. That’s something we’re always aiming to do”.
Theatre in Kuwait is currently on the crest of a multi-talented and multi-faceted wave. Across cultures and generations, it is inspiring new audiences. For those passionate few devoting themselves to the growth of the art, such as Hamad Al Jenaie, the clearest way we can show our gratitude is by supporting their shows through our attendance. The good news for all of us is there’s currently no shortage of interest in what he and others will do next.