UR, A new play inspired by the Sumerian text Lamentation for the Destruction of the City of Ur.

Play text commissioned by: LE FESTIVAL DES ECRIVAINS DU MONDE

Presented as a work in progress PHASE 1, at Dar al Athar Al Islammiyyah, Kuwait (04-15) and Phase 2 at Columbia Global Centre, Reid Hall, Paris (09-15).

PHASE 2, Paris 09-15
PHASE 2 (1)
PHASE 2 (2)
PHASE 2 (3)

PHASE 1, Kuwait 04-15

Failaka Island, (formerly) Icarus: Crossroads of civilisations.

Failaka Island has acted as a cradle of civilization since the farthest reaches of human history: Bronze Age settlements, Babylonian, Hellenistic, early Christian and early Islamic civilisations. Today Failaka holds the sites of the destroyed fertility shrine, the temple of Artemis, the museum of Iraqi Baathist military hardware and the abandoned chalets of the National Touristic Enterprises.The island hangs between the ghostly present; it’s recent past and the forced evacuation of it’s residents during the Invasion of 1990 and its subsequent use as a military training ground for the US and Kuwait army, and it’s ancient past.

Failaka / Icarus is the inspiration for a new cycle of work focusing on ancient texts.

UR, inspired by the ancient Sumerian Lamentation for the Destruction of the city of UR, is the first project in this cycle.

Failaka_Chalets and car

The Lamentation for the Destruction of the City of Ur:

Is a Sumerian lament composed around the time of the fall of Ur to the Elamites and the end of the city’s third dynasty (c. 2000 BC).

The first lines of the lament were discovered in the early twentieth century by the University of Pennsylvania excavations at the temple library at Nippur. The restored tablet is 23cm by 11cm by 4.4 cm at its thickest point and is displayed today at the Louvre Museum, in Paris. Scholars are unable to pinpoint with accuracy the date of it’s original composition, but suspect that it dates to the early part of the second millennia BC.

The lament is compos lines ed of four hundred and thirty eight in eleven kirugu (sections or songs). Some of the lines are missing, effaced, wiped away and the meanings of other lines remain contested by scholars to this day. The lamentation describes the goddess Ningal, who weeps for her city after pleading with her father, the god Enlil, to call back a destructive storm. Interspersed with the goddess’s lament are other sections that describe the ghost town that Ur has become, recount the wrath of Enlil’s storm, and invoke the protection of the gods against future calamities.

Director’s Note:

A few weeks before rehearsals began, the mercenaries of the Islamic State in the Levant and Iraq (I.S.I.S) undertook to destroy the Sumerian and Akkadian artefacts held in the Museum of Ninewah, in Mosul.

Through this bold exploration of the ancient Sumerian text, this project re-visits the site of the primal destruction of the first city in the history of mankind. UR is a play that celebrates the civilisational evolution of humanity and points the light cast by this ancient lament onto the blighted cities of the contemporary Arab world, ensnared in post revolutionary chaos. UR uses drama to confront the strategies of religious fascism, creates a riposte to the erasure of history and the destruction of memory.

Author’s Note:

In the descriptions of the ghost city that Ur becomes, composed over 3000 years ago, one hears echoes of the blasted territories of the Arab world today: Homs, Aleppo, Falluja, Mosul, Aden, Benghazi, Gaza…. One of the aims of this work is to create a dramatic object that allows for these echoes, made across vast stretches of time, to be heard. Within these echoes, however, comes a question: what caused this destruction? This question is not answered in the tablet and I drew on models of Greek tragedy to help me write this play. This allowed me to treat the songs from the tablet as tragic chorus elements and turn the mythical Goddess of Ur, Nin-Gal, into the female protagonist of a tragic plot.

Premise of play:

The Goddess Nin-Gal, daughter of Enlil and wife of Nanna, has abandoned her position on the Council of Gods to declare herself the mortal Queen of Ur.  She creates glory for Ur through the splendor of its poetry and songs. More subversively, she defends of a new type of social contract promoting racial and ethnic mixity amongst its citizens and, more contentious still, she abolishes the restraints placed on female sexuality and spearheads a campaign against corruption in the ranks of the priesthood.

Nin-Gal’s radical social and political experiment draws scorn and anger from the Gods: her father, Enlil, places Ur under under a bitter siege. In reaction to the siege, Nin-Gal orders Ur’s gates to remain open at all times and, instead of calling upon her army, the rebel Queen surrounds herself with an army of scribes who busily lay down poems for posterity.

Meanwhile, Sumer is under threat from the Eastern tribes of the Elamites who lurk in the hills around Sumer, leading bloody skirmishes into Sumer and eagerly waiting for the opportunity to invade its lands. Nin-Gal further outrages her relatives by taking an Elamite prisoner of war as her lover and protector of her scribe army.

Despite her unconventional behavior, Nin-Gal is beloved of her people and, as news of her revolt spreads, other cities across Sumer begin to follow in the path of Ur. The order of the Gods is under threat and, in response, they plot a terrible revenge…

The events unfold between Nin-Gal’s palace, Nanna’s palace, Enlil’s palace.

Extracts and Further Information:

From playtext

Performed in Arabic, with surtitles to English. Duration: 60 mins.

2 male, 2 female performers; 5 singers; 3 percussionists; 1 electric guitar.

From the public performance, work in progress 26 April 2015, Dar Al Athar Al Islamiyyah Courtyard, Yarmouk

UR_Phase 1, Kuwait

Open Air Performance:

The project aims for full production in 2016. It aims to perform in open air performance venues, with a preference for ancient civilizational sites formerly used for public performance across Europe and the Middle East.

For the public showing of the results of Phase 1, Eric Soyer designed a traverse stage arrangement inside the courtyard of Dar al Athar al Islammiyah, Yarmouk.

Traverse stage design draft_ by Eric Soyer

The results of the workshop were shown to over 350 people on April 26th, 2015. Audiences of all ages and backgrounds were extremely responsive to this work. Examples of social media reactions on instagram and twitter below.


SABAB Theatre celebrates its partners in this work:

Cast List


Nanna- God of Ur                             Ali Boland

Enlil – her Father                             Ali Boland

Enki- her Uncle, a general             Sulayman Al Bassam


Ningal- Queen of Ur                      Amal Omran

Elam- her lover                                Faisal Al Ameeri

Diyala- her servant                         Sama Al Ajmi

Haqod- High Priestess of Ur       Hala Omran

Priestesses: Sawsan Al Weheda, Shoq Al Marzooq, Sara Al Sarraf, Jameela Al Sarraf

Scribes: Razi Al Shatti


Ahmed Al Dabbous, Abdullah Al Mutairi, Jarrah Abdallah

Creative Team:

Artistic Producer & Dramaturge   Georgina Van Welie

Writer & Director                              Sulayman Al Bassam

Composer                                            Lewis Gibson

Composer & Performer                    Alfredo Genovesi

Costumes                                             Alia Farid

Choreography Consultant              Olivier Casamayou

Scenography Consultant                 Eric Soyer

Lights and Stage Management     Syed Hasham

Surtitles                                                Wafa Al Fraheen

Film Archive                                       Shakir Abal

Arabic Translation                           Saif Al Areef & Sulayman Al Bassam

Company Manager                           Mohammed Jawad

Company Administrator                  Saif Al Areef

UR_Phase 1, Kuwait

With special thanks to:

H.H Sheikh Naser Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, H.H Sheikha Hussah Sabah Al-Salem Al-Sabah, Eng. Ali Hussain Al Yuha, Nicole Salinger, Monica Preti Hamard, Shehab Shehab, Ismael Fahad Ismael, Mohammad Ashkanani, Khaled Sadaqa, Khaled Beshara , Moussa Bahman.

The Process:

Though, for the large part, modest and unassuming the 3 week process of this phase of work- between the geographies of Failaka Island and mainland Kuwait- was an important part of the soul of the work. We leave traces of it on this

Sumerian Divine Council, Annunaki

post, in the form of a dishevelled diary, a bullet-peppered scrapbook, a messy log, a thing to be continued about a thing to be continued…

Rehearsal_0_ de-consecrated mosque, Failaka


US army humanoid targets, Falluja-model village a.k.a Las Vegas semi-urban warfare training range, Camp Bheuring, Kuwait


Late Sumerian Council of Gods, Annunanki

Olivier Casamayou_ choreographic sketch for Elamite, Failaka


Costume for Nanna_ Alia Farid


Music for Alf

Electra ref. from Georgina Van Welie: Fiona Shaw as Electra in Deborah Warner's production

Nin-Gal, Queen of UR

target with blue eyes

La Marelu et Paco Cepengo Tangos

rehearsal in hawalli theatre

rehearsal in courtyard_ wind_ sarayaat

rehearsal in courtyard

ISIS Anthem, يا عاصب الرأس وينك ya 3aasib al ras waynak

Samuel Kramer'sTranslation

Firas Al Sawah's elegant Arabic translation of the Lamentation