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“this tale of crushed female emancipation pulls no punches in Sulayman Al-Bassam’s emphatic staging
The Financial Times, 22 May 2013 (Laura Cappelle)
Full article: Rituel pour une metamorphose, review

Ritual for a Metamorphosis

by Saadallah Al Wannous

One of a small handful of seminal texts of contemporary Arabic language drama. In this piece – written in 1994 and largely ignored on stages outside of the author’s native Syria due to its explosive content – Al Wannous describes the movement of an entire society as it is driven into a state of dissolution and chaos by the determination of one woman. Armed with the only weapon at her disposal, her body, Al Massa takes on and subverts the male structures of power that surround her – the same structures that continue to underpin Arab societies to this day – Religion, Commerce, the Military and the Patriarchal State. Her revolt, like that of the youth that led to the events of the ongoing Arab Spring, forces the world around her into a state of crisis, division and massive uncertainty. A revolutionary piece, for revolutionary times. Beyond its urgency as a contemporary Arab text, ‘Rituel pour une Metamorphose’, through its language that overrides stereotype; its characters’ journeys that reveal individual lives at the edges of human tolerance; its intertwining of fable and actuality, illusion and reality reveals itself as a universal dramatic text of great power. A text that demands a scenic space open to its provocations, its metaphors, its wealth of imagery; a space free of the bonds of ethnicity and naturalism, engaged with the reality of its performance, and the potent demons of desire that inhabit it.

To restore his authority and that of religion, the Mufti of Damascus sets a trap for the provost of the merchants, Abdallah, catching him in the act with Warda, a courtesan. Then, to confuse the police chief who made the arrest, he asks Mou’mina, the provost’s wife to secretly replace the imprisoned courtesan. The price Mou’mina asks in exchange for this humiliation will turn the social balance of the city upside-down: she is finally free of the burden of her marriage by choosing the life of a courtesan. With her body, using no means other than her beauty, her charm and her intelligence, Mou’mina, who has now become Almâssa (the diamond), will challenge and overcome the hypocrisy of the mechanisms of domination maintained by men, forcing them to face their deepest contradictions. In the end she pays a heavy price for the chaos she unleashes.

Running time: 135 minutes without interval
Performed in French

Directed by Sulayman Al Bassam
Translation: Rania Samara
Assistant Directors: Stéphanie Leclercq, Cécile Falcon
Dramaturgy: Georgina Van Welie
Design: Sam Collins
Lighting: Marcus Doshi
Costumes: Virginie Gervaise
Original Music composed and performed by: Yasmine Hamdan
Hair and Make up: Cécile Kretschmar
Wardrobe Assistant: Laurence Aué

Thierry Hancisse: Le Mufti
Sylvia Bergé: Warda
Denis Podalydès: Abdallah et Cheikh Muhammad
Laurent Natrella: Ibrahim et Izzat
Julie Sicard: Mou’mina/Almâssa
Hervé Pierre: Hamîd et Le Geôlier
Bakary Sangaré: Abdo et le Gouverneur
Nâzim Boudjenah: Afsah, Safwân et Un Gendarme
Elliot Jenicot: Abbâs and Le domestique
Marion Malenfant: La Servante, basma et l’Eunuque
Louis Arene: Soumsom et Un gendarme

Co-produced by the Comedie Francaise with Théâtre du Gymnase

Production History
Opened at Théâtre du Gymnase, Marseille on 29 April 2013 as part of Marseille-Provence 2013 European Capital of Culture.
Entered the repertoire at the Comedie Francaise, Salle Richelieu, Paris on 18 May 2013