In Nidal Al Atway’s play Al Jabra, a group of young teens have dared each other to enter an abandoned warehouse at night. When one of them slams the door in which they came into the building, they are stuck inside the warehouse until someone finds a way out, or they are shown the way out.
There is Al Jabra a real sense of youth and age being played out on the stage. The constant to-ing and fro-ing between the characters as to whose fault it was for shutting the door, who will be sent to find another exit and general foolery gives a real sense of vulnerability. They might act strong and full of man-like qualities, but being locked inside the warehouse brings out the child-like qualities that they still posses. Al Jabra is peppered throughout with slapstick humour and comedy. When one of the boys gets distraught, the others comfort him thinking he isn’t enjoying the situation, when actually he is upset over his Blackberry phone running out of battery. The fact that he could have used his phone to ring someone for help is beyond him, and it is this humour (or perhaps stupidity) that is played throughout.
Yet even within the comedy of the play, there are numerous messages and questions that underpin the work. Going back to the Blackberry moment, it’s not just the stupidity, but rather the devotion to technology and being connected at all times that Atway hints at: “You don’t know how important the mobile phone is. I’d be lost without a mobile”. Most of us are constantly attached to our phones, and we do feel lost without them, but would we let ourselves get stressed about them? Not being able to communicate with a friend or finding out the football results? This is tragic reflection on what young people are like within certain situations.
Al Jabra also delves into the traditions that are being displaced through the Westernisation of the Middle East. Traditions are being lost as more young people are influenced by the Western world than their own countries. This is brilliantly shown when one of the boys comments on the other’s clothes, “Why do you need the chain and low waist trousers? Why can’t you wear something that matches our traditions?” This direct questioning between the young characters shows how displaced they are within their culture, the fabrics of their traditions are fraying and being intertwined with the Western world.
As the play continues, a new character emerges out of the depths of the darkened stage: an old man whose wisdom and knowledge seem to radiate from him. As he hobbles across the stage, there is a sense that he is just as vulnerable as the others who are stuck within the warehouse, only the man went out of his way to remove himself from the world, and to live in peace here. He imparts his knowledge to the others, and whilst being received as a ‘scary’ character at first, this soon dissolves as he supports and offers peals of wisdom to those around him. The overriding theme of respect for your elders shines through Al Jabra, where “We are young and curious” the boys say, which is followed by the older man declaring “… but it’s good to think wisely”.
As a whole, Al Jabra is an interesting piece, dissecting a number of themes which are common across the world. The necessity to adapt to changing traditions and cultures can be difficult, and there is a sense that by changing you’ll be losing the knowledge of who you truly are, when actually we thrive through development. It’s not easy for the young teens to understand the old man’s isolation but they understand the differences between them, just as the old man understands his knowledge can go only so far.
You can view Al Jabra and other performances from the Gulf Stage project FREE by heading over to the Digital Theatre website.