Reviews OWE & Fringe Published 25 June 2012

The Prophet

Gate Theatre ⋄ 14th June - 21st July 2012

Cairo stories.

Carmel Doohan

In order to research this play, writer Hassan Abdulrazzak travelled to Cairo to conduct interviews with a series of Egyptians, speaking with everyone from taxi drivers to journalists; their stories of the Tahir Square protests have been drawn together to build up a picture of a country on the brink of revolution.

The Prophet is set on the  28 January 2011 and focuses on a young, educated couple, Layla and Hisham. As the street below their flat fills with protesters, Layla admits to being more interested in deciding whether she should shave her pubic hair in order to revitalise her stagnant marriage than in joining them. Her partner, Hisham, is also uninspired; a novelist suffering from writers’ block, his priority is getting a translation deal so that his books can be published in the West.

When literary agent, Suzanne, offers him an opportunity he cannot refuse, Layla becomes complicit in carrying out a government order to switch down the phone network; their personal choices and betrayals echo the wider political situation and the corruption inherent within it. While Layla eventually encounters a sense of community and optimism on the streets, the effect this might have on the wider social and political situation remains ambiguous.

Abdulrazzak’s previous play, Baghdad Wedding, depicted the lives of middle class ex-patriot Iraqis returning home to an occupied country and he has spoken about the importance of using his work to show Arabs as something other than “con-men, religious fanatics or terrorists.” He is interested in showing another side to the Middle East: “The news doesn’t show a couple of 30 somethings sitting in a cafe talking about books” and it is this under explored world that he wants write about.

Dick Straker’s filmed footage and Holly Pigott’s minimal set allow the stage to transform from a middle class apartment to a downtown slum and torture chamber. Yet despite the fascinating backdrop – both in terms of subject matter and visual approach – the reliance on monologue makes Christopher Haydon’s production feel very static. The plot never entirely convinces either: Suzanne’s villainous temptress is a clichéd, almost comedic figure and the ending is very unsatisfying.

But the depiction of extraordinary events seen through the eyes of ordinary Egyptians is fascinating; the use of personal details helps to build up a more complete picture of a complex situation and these observations allow for a much deeper understanding of the politics. While structurally unsatisfying, Abdulrazzak’s play is an intriguing articulation of the complexities of the Egyptian situation, one full of intelligence and wit. A year and a half on from the protests, it remains as necessary as ever to be able to investigate the real lives behind the rhetoric.

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Carmel Doohan

Carmel is an arts journalist and writer who lives in Hackney, London.

The Prophet Show Info


Directed by Christopher Haydon

Written by Hassan Abdulrazzak

Cast includes Silas Carson, Sasha Behar, Melanie Jessop, Nitzan Sharron

Link http://gatetheatre.co.uk/

Running Time 1 hr 40 mins (no interval)

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