Voices from the hijacked Spring
A new form of logistically light, content rich work, developed in response to the ongoing struggles of the Arab Spring.
A series of short scenes exploring the themes of violence and desire in the contemporary Arab world. Written as a series of mocking, visceral and poetic monologues capturing the voices of individuals caught in the convulsions of change.
Performed in English (with some Arabic)
Duration: 60 minutes without interval
Written and Directed by Sulayman Al Bassam
Performed by Raymond Hosni and Hala Omran
Design: Sam Collins
Lighting Design: Marcus Doshi
Composer/Sound Design: Lewis Gibson
Dramaturge: Georgina Van Welie
First presented as a staged reading at Sciences Po, Paris on 26 June 2012 as part of the International Symposium The Arab World in the Age of Revolution: State of Play, with Lebanese underground music icon, Yasmine Hamdan, Jack Ellis, Raymond Hosni and Hala Omran.
World premiere: 8 January 2013 at the York Theatre, Sydney, Australia as part of the Sydney Festival with Raymond Hosni, Hala Omran and guest performer Kym Vercoe.
“No two fingers of a hand are alike”, says an old Arab saw. It’s a fitting description of the peoples’ uprisings that have shaken the foundations of the Arab region over the last two years; uprisings which, for all of their overlapping in time and circumstance, are as varied as the names of the countries where they took hold- Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Libya, Syria…
In each of these countries, there is a unique history of authoritarianism and dissent, a singular accumulation of hurt and grievance, a distinct concoction of state violence, institutional corruption, religious, sectarian and tribal allegiances. And yet, bridging these vastly distinct revolutions, there are similarities: the mass movements to reclaim a lost dignity; the emergence – and subsequent marginalization – of non-aligned youth movements; the mesmerizingly identical discourse of the leaders whose power is threatened; the filling of the power vacuum by popular Islamic movements.
Rather than attempting to offer an overview of the Arab Spring, a medley or compilation of viewpoints and talking heads, this piece tracks the unspoken territories of experience, by delving into the territories of desire, taboo and transgression. The monologues chart the perimeters of experience where the characters are at tipping points in their journies, in contradiction with themselves, moments where they are about to become other than what they were. The figures presented here are not the makers of history, not the demagogues or the revolutionary idealists, not the tyrants entrenched in bunkers, nor generals jockeying for positions in the aftermath. They are, for the most part, rather ordinary people caught short by the charge of history, either as observers, victims of circumstance, small-scale opportunists or desperate outsiders. They are the collateral characters on the perimeters of experience.
Each of the characters exists in a distinct relationship to the geographies and timelines of the Arab Spring. Some, like the Young Prostitute, are unwittingly caught up in events at an early point of civil unrest; others, like the sniper from a minority Christian community in Chant of the White Phoenix, are trapped inside the infernal horror of civil war. The Young Man of Means is a figure from a post revolutionary landscape where the ranks of politicized Islamic movements- burgeoned by foreign funding- set about reconstructing new empires of intolerance; the Father in This is not the meaning of Revolution is confronted by the inter generational divide inside own household and the latent brutality of his own long standing quietism.
Outsiders are present, too. The war journalist in Vertical Vision is consumed by the need to bear witness to the suffering of others. Marie Colvin, The Sunday Times correspondent, who was killed whilst reporting on the siege of Homs in Syria in the winter of 2012, inspired this monologue. The other voice, the marketer in The 153rd in line, is that of a Western opportunist who, out of expediency and self interest, is the apologist and beautician of a spent autocracy.
The characters should not be read as allegorical figures. They do not represent political forces, national identities, or moral constructs. Rather, they are portraits of individuals locked within interior landscapes as complex and disturbed as the exterior political worlds they inhabit. Gnawed with irrational desire, haunted by other voices, they occupy an ambiguous moral space and represent nothing other than my own curiosity as a dramatist to investigate character and voice within a contemporary landscape.
As my wonderful dramaturge on this piece is keen to point out, there is a significantly absent voice here: that of the young, brave, vaguely civic minded, secular, 18-30 year old who sparked much of the initial energy of the Arab Spring. This is the voice that, since the early stages of the revolts, has been eradicated, marginalized, subsumed in the ensuing storm. It is a voice that remains a work in progress, not formed yet, not yet embodied, traces of which can be gleaned in the sounds of the digital storm that punctuate the monologues, their sounds, their voices are ‘such stuff as dreams are made on’; and this piece is dedicated to them.
Sulayman Al Bassam
Paris, December 2012