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One Day in Spring - Arab Playwrights Today


When the wave of protests that resulted in the Arab Spring swept 
through Middle Eastern countries throughout the early part of 2011, the 
mass unrest saw oppresive governments in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and 
Yemen overthrown. While the unrest continues elsewhere, the new 
possibilities such actions have opened up have been seized on by young 
people throughout the Arab world.

Some of this ongoing creative energy is captured in the One Day in 
Spring season, a series of new plays by young Arab writers seen over a 
six week period as part of Oran Mor's A Play, A Pie and A Pint season 
of lunchtime theatre. As curated by playwright David Greig and 
partnered by the National Theatre of Scotland in association with the 
Tron Theatre's Mayfesto season, One Day in Spring highlights a set of 
vital voices caught in the crossfire of a brand new landscape, as Greig 
explains.

“For about ten years I've been going back and forth between here and 
the Middle East working with young playwrights in Syria, Egypt and 
elsewhere,” he says. “As these playwrights developed, I wanted their 
work to be seen. There were readings at the Royal Court and in New 
York, but I really wanted these plays to be seen in Scotland, and it 
became my personal quest. You have to bear in mind that these young 
playwrights are different from playwrights in America or even Brazil, 
because they were not able to get their plays on. This is for a 
multitude of reasons, censorship being the primary one, but for 
economic reasons and others. Yet they were forming writers groups, and 
responding to the idea of new playwriting with real vigour and 
enthusiasm.

“It seemed generational. Whichever country I went to, there would be 
young men and women in their twenties, young intellectuals who were 
aware of the internet and twitter, but not in thrall to America, but 
were accidentally certain of their identity. At the same time they were 
being squashed by a number of pressures. They were being squashed by 
dead regimes on top of them, and by Islamism coming up on the other 
side and wanting to roll back some of the social freedoms they had, and 
were also being squashed by the west, who for the first decade of this 
centuey has regarded these countries as a breeding ground for 
terrorism.

“So the energy of this generation of writers is really intense. I never 
thought it would go anywhere, and I don't think they did either, but it 
became obvious that this generation had caught flame in a particular 
way. There are great established Arab plays that haven't been seen 
here, but this needed to be rougher and rawer and younger than that. 
These aren't well-buffed, tried and tested pieces. They are rough. Some 
are direct political responses, and two are made by and for activism by 
someone who is very involved in the Syrian uprising. There's an urgency 
in these works that we wanted to showcase.”

More established voices do make an appearance in Dear Glasgow, the 
second show of the season, which brings together words by seven 
distinguished poets, novelists and essayists fronm the Arab world, 
including Raja Shehadah and Adhaf Souief. Each one has been 
commissioned to pen personal responses to events in their country, 
which will be performed by equally elder statesperson-like Scottis 
actors under thev directorial eye of Oran Mor supremo David MacLennan.

The season kicks off with Can You Please Look At The Camera, by 
Mohammed Al Attar from Damascus, which charts the plight of a young 
woman recording the testimonies of her fellow Syrians in the midst of 
the Syrian revolution. Hadda and Hassan Lekliches! By the Rabat-based  
writer Jaouad Essouani is a monologue asddressed to god by a Moroccan 
everywoman. Also from Damascus, Abdullah Alkafri's Damascus Aleppo 
features a psychiatrist councelling a man who claims to have been 
having a relationshp with the psychiatrist's homosexual son, who has 
disappeared. Lebanese writer Abdelrahim Alawji's work is showcased by 
Sleeping Beauty Insomnia, in which two strangers seek shelter from an 
Israeli attack in a bombed-out theatre with only the body of a dead 
woman for company. These will be directed by Scots stalwarts Catrin 
Evans, Ben Harrison, Philip Howard and Graham Eatough.

Over at the Tron, meanwhile, No Time For Art is a series of documentary 
performances by Laila Soliman and Mustafa Said which look at police and 
miltary violence in Egypt. While the first of this year's Five Minute 
Theatre events presented by the NTS following last year's twenty-four 
hour extravaganza of brand new miniatures will feature protest as its 
theme, the finale of the One day in Spring Season will be an eponymous 
compendium of work directed by Greig himself. This will bring together 
some twenty-four writers, each capturing a moment in time over the 
course of a day, all in a fifty-minute whole in which two Egyptian 
actors will attempt to convey the sort of urgency Greig identifies, all 
to a soundtrack of hip to the minute club music from Beirut, Tunis and 
Cairo.

Middle eastern influences have trickled into Greig's own work for some 
time now, from his adaptation of Palestinian human rights lawyer Raja 
Shehada's memoir, When The Bulbul Stopped Singing, in 2004, to his own 
full length play, Damascus, in 2007, both for the Traverse. Another 
Shehada adaptation, An Imagined Sarha, appeared as part of the Tron's 
Mayfesto strand in 2010.

“It's only since I started going to the middle east that it started 
feeding into my work,” he says. “I think it was the energy of these 
young people that made me interested, because I think I saw in them, 
nyself not that long ago. When I started going I was just past thirty, 
and there were all these twenty-two and twenty-three year olds trying 
to make theatre, but where we'd had everything laid out before us, even 
the idea of having a career as a writer over there was pretty much 
unheard of.  But there was a hunger and a thirst, and to be a young 
writer in 1996 was a terrific thing.

“There was a theatre scene,there then, but it felt like we were 
ignoring it. It also felt, and this is a tricky political area, though 
not as much as it was five years ago, but it also felt like it wasn't 
just the west ignoring these younger wtiters, but that they were being 
ignored there as well. Now it's much clearer to see that there was 
something waiting to pop, and now it's popped, the consequences of that 
are unknowable. One thing I want the One Day in Spring Season to say is 
that these writers are here, and that these are the people we should be 
listening to.”


A Play, A Pie and A Pint: One Day in Spring Season opens at Oran Mor on 
April 16th with Would You Please Look At The Camera, with plays opening 
over the next six weeks before transferring to the Traverse Theatre, 
Edinburgh. Five Minite Theatre: Protest, No Time For Art is at The Tron 
Theatre, Glasgow, May 4th-5th.
www.nationaltheatrescotland.com/content/

The Herald, April 10th 2012

ends

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