Saturday, July 23, 2011
royal court theatre to present plays inspired by arab spring
One of Britain’s most prominent Arab writers, the Iraqi playwright and scientist Dr Hassan Abdulrazzak [pictured below], was in the audience at last Thursday’s discussion “The Arab Spring: A literary perspective” held at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), London University.
Abdulrazzak used the occasion to publicise ‘After the Spring: New Short Plays from the Arab World’ to be held at the Royal Court Theatre on 11 and 12 August, in the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs. He has translated one of the plays into English – “Voluntary Work” by Egyptian theatre director and playwright Leila Solman.
The SOAS event was part of the Shubbak festival, London’s first-ever celebration of contemporary Arab culture. It was organised by the Arab British Centre, in collaboration with Banipal magazine and the Council for Arab-British Understanding (CAABU).
The three writers on the panel were Khaled al-Berry of Egypt, Giuma Bukleb of Libya and Ghalia Kabbani of Syria. The event was chaired by the author Brian Whitaker, an editor of the Guardian newspaper’s Comment is Free (CIF) section and former Guardian Middle East editor
Abdulrazzak made his intervention from the audience when the panel discussion turned to the possible impact of the Arab Spring on censorship and self-censorship. He cited Soliman’s play as an example of how the Arab Spring and use of social media may be easing self-censorship.
He did not refer to Soliman by name, but said of the Egyptian play he has translated “the young lady who wrote it is an activist and blogger. I was given a play by her before, and it was self censoring, but this one is very direct. It attacks the army and what it is doing right now, and the imprisonments.”
He wondered whether this will now “be the way” of writing with young people having got used to expressing themselves on Facebook and so on during the Arab uprisings. “Will this translate into literature?” he asked.
In addition to Soliman’s play, the ‘After the Spring’ programme, directed by Simon Goodwin, features plays by Mohammad Al Attar of Syria, Kamal Khalladi from Morocco, and Arzé Khodr from Lebanon. There is additional material from Elyes Labidi of Tunisia.
‘After the Spring’ is part of the Royal Court’s Rough Cuts season of work in progress , experimental pieces, readings and shorts to be held from 9 to 20 August. It is a new phase of the project the Royal Court first launched in Spring 2007, in collaboration with the British Council, to encourage the writing of plays by young authors from across the Arab world.
As a first step 21 writers from Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine, Tunisia and Syria - three writers per country - were invited to Damascus in April 2007. There they worked with Elyse Dodgson and with playwrights David Greig and April De Angelis.
A second session was held in Tunis in November 2008 and a third phase in Cairo in March 2008 under the Royal Court’s artistic director Dominic Cooke.
Rehearsed readings of plays were held at the Royal Court in November 2008 in the "I Come from There: New Plays from the Arab World” season in November 2008. Seven Arab writers were involved, and the season including a panel discussion with the writers chaired by David Greig.
Abdulrazzak translated the play “603” by Palestinian writer and actor Imad Farajin for ‘I Come from There’. His translation was published by Nick Hern Books in the collection “Plays from the Arab World” edited by Elyse Dodgson. The other plays in the volume are “Damage” by Kamal Khalladi, “The House” by Arzé Khodr, “Egyptian Products” by Laila Soliman and “Withdrawal” by Mohammad Al Attar.
In Spring 2009 there were readings of the plays with local directors in Amman, Beirut and Tunis. Some of the plays have had full productions in various locations in the Arab region.
Abdulrazzak combines his writing career with his work researching stem cells at London’s Imperial College. He made his playwriting debut with the multiple award-wining “Baghdad Wedding” staged at the Soho Theatre. It was subsequently broadcast as a BBC Radio 3 play in 2008. Since then several of his short plays have been staged. He also writes poems, short stories and monologues.