24 October 2010
“Any distinguished theatre activity begins as an experiment, and experiments always involve risk.” These words belong to Anthony Field, the British theatre producer and the guest of honour of the 22nd Cairo International Festival for Experimental Theatre (CIFET), which ran from 11 to 20 October. The Tunis National Theatre group won the festival’s prize with its performance of Suitcases.
This year’s festival hosted 48 countries which participated with 61 performances, 33 of which were chosen by the jury to officially run in the contest.
A number of veteran and distinguished figures in theatre were honoured. These included Irina Miagkova from Russia, Emanuela Giordano from Italy, Hanan Kassab from Syria, Dimos Avdeliodis from Greece, Ragaa Hussein from Egypt, Witold Mazurkiewicz from Poland, Manfred Beilharz from Germany, Michael Fields from the United States, and Hugo Luis Saccoccia from Argentina.
Egypt participated with 21 shows produced by several theatre companies including The Artistic Theatre House, the General Organisation of Cultural Palaces, al-Hanager Theatre, The Youth Theatre, as well as independent troupes.
Only two performances were chosen to represent Egypt in the official competition. Karima Bedeir’s The Curlew’s Prayer, a production by the National Ensemble for Performance of Heritage Works, inspired by the novel with the same name written by one of Egypt’s pillars of the 20th century intellectual renaissance, Taha Hussein. Bedeir’s performance depended heavily on dance, rhythm and dynamic expression with little dialogue to introduce the issue tackled by the plot, that of the suppression of rural women. The other show representing Egypt was Donkey’s Shadow, one of the productions of the Artistic Creativity Centre.
Outside the contest
Several Egyptian performances did not make it to the official contest though. Even if they were not up to standard, they reflected a genuine interest in theatre.
The Tali’a Theatre production The Last Tale in the World, directed by Mohamed al-Durra, tackles three taboos: religion, politics and sex. The Youth Theatre’s Requiem for Mozart inspired by Mozart and Salieri text by the famous Russian poet Pushkin, was also performed outside the official contest. The translation was made by Mohamed Saleh who also played the leading role.
The struggle between the good and evil, was tackled in the Double Faced Man, the only performance by the Puppet Theatre, directed by Islam Naguib.
Four performances produced by the General Organisation of Cultural Palaces, included Ali al-Zeibaq (Ali the mercurial), King Lear and Water and Blood.
The Hanager Theatre, which is currently undergoing renovation, was able nevertheless to participate in this year’s festival with the performance Countries that are Narrower than Love, written by the veteran writer Abdullah Wanous and directed by Tarek al-Dweiry.
The Restaurant by Akram Mustafa, one of the Youth Theatre productions, is inspired by the Turkish drama Restaurant of Live Monkeys which was written during the 1960s and won a number of awards at the time. The Egyptianised version has nothing to do with the original text except for the concept, while the details and characters are totally different.
The idea focuses on the arrogance and tyranny of some persons coming from western colonial countries who behave as though their money and power can buy them anything in developing countries.
It was very clear that this year’s performances were influenced by political and social changes. Almost all the performances included an allusion to some political reality somewhere.
Baghdadi Love Circle performed by the Iraqi National Acting Group was one of the most prominent shows. Directed by Awatef Naiem, it tackles the story of two women fighting over a child. It represents a sarcastic reading of the contradictory Iraqi reality between the anguish of war and the will to live.
From Lebanon, the Theatre of Joy presented Guantanamo…the Meaning of Waiting directed by Farah Shaier. It tackles the story of six women who patiently await their husbands’ return from Guantanamo. Consumed by the wait, none has the time to really listen to their inner feelings; they just recall memories.
Some nine African countries, including Côte D’Ivoire, Guinea, Libya, Nigeria, Sudan, and Tunisia, participated
Sudan participated with two shows Darfour’s Tightrope Walk and A Railway at the Back of the River. The latter tackled the issue of privatising the railway, which represented the economic and social artery of livelihood in Sudan.
Nigeria participated with Whispers in the Darkness which tackles a critical phase of Nigerian history, and depicts the tyranny of the powerful over the weak.
Côte D’Ivoire presented Mr and the Madcap which tells the story of Ingba, the clown who testifies to the social and political events in the kingdom. And from Guinea, the National Theatre Group of Guinea performed The Final Journey, which focuses on the everlasting struggle between good and evil.
Among the European participants was Spain, which presented Cubic Metre, a performance that depicts the value of capital during the harsh global economic crisis, through the towering prices of square metres of land for sale. The only price a person who wishes to buy land can afford is that of one square metre.