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Gulf Stage Review: The Play

Posted on 18 March 2011 Written by

Laurin Campbell says:

Where better to explore issues of hierarchy and construct than the theatre? Talal Mahmoud’s The Play highlights the prevalence of predefined roles and male dominance in Arab cultures, using the stage as an allegory. Whilst referencing examples of female exploitation through arranged marriages, physical abuse and misogynistic notions of the woman as a passive vessel, the control exerted by men in such societies is shown to be unnatural and unnecessary. Through the use of characters intrinsically associated with superficiality and facade, namely an actor and a make-up artist, the constructed nature of accepted male/female dichotomies is underlined and Mahmoud’s world in miniature provides key stimulus for further discussion.

Catherine Noonan says:

The notion that theatre is not restricted to the stage but lies at the heart of our culture, history and consciousness is integral to Talal Mahmoud’s The Play, with Mahmoud questioning exactly what significance Arabic society places on the arts. What begins as a conversation between actor and make-up artist soon spirals into a heated battle confronting the issue of whether actors, and indeed women, are allocated an established and respected place within the Arab world.

Mahmoud’s work is both insightful and intense, bringing the social issues of the Arabic community to the forefront of the audience’s consciousness. Undoubtedly, being able to witness a work like Mahmoud’s through Digital Theatre is a valuable opportunity, with the medium allowing his work to be received by an audience that would otherwise not have had the chance to experience Arabic theatre at its best. Despite this, I can’t help but feel that watching a digital version rather than experiencing the real performance limits the play’s potential impact. Part of being at the theatre is about becoming immersed in the emotion and atmosphere of the piece, and watching Mahmoud’s play on a 17-inch computer screen doesn’t evoke the same response to the material that the reaction of the live audience suggests it deserves.

Whilst bringing Arabic talent to the masses can clearly only be regarded as an innovative move on behalf of Gulf Stage, the true resonance of The Play’s message was, perhaps inevitably, somewhat lost in translation.

Jake Orr says:

For me, it is the direct and demanding dialogue within Talal Mahmoud’s The Play that resonates strongly after watching the production online through Digital Theatre. The make-up artist’s constant denial of the actor rings dramatically in every line she delivers. She not only speaks from a character perspective, but also for women within the Arab community. Her fight to be accepted as a divorced woman, as a working woman, is the struggle of any woman living in a society that is dominated by male hierarchy.

It is through Mahmoud’s setting The Play within a theatre, with an aspiring actor discussing the refined elements of acting, that only gives meaning to the make-up artist;s sharp words of defense. She doesn’t live in the world where she needs to pretend she is this person or that person, she doesn’t hide behind masks of make-up and character, she is what she is – a woman. Even more poignant is perhaps seeing such dialogue delivered by an actress on the National Theatre of Qatar’s stage. I can only imagine that this level of delivery and raw passion within her dialogue only goes to further the necessity of having a female, the ‘underdog’, having the platform to voice such words. Mahmoud does well to twist the driving words into a wonderful monologue about gender, belief and determination, against the odds making The Play an excellent magnifying glass to look into the Arab world from a UK perspective.

The Play is part of Gulf Stage and can be watched online through Digital Theatre for free. For this, and other plays, check out the Digital Theatre Gulf Stage website.

Jake Orr

Jake Orr

Jake is the Artistic Director and Founder of A Younger Theatre. He is a freelance writer and blogger, a theatre marketer and a digital producer. He is also Co-Curator of Dialogue.

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