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Monday, 26 June 2017

Awaiting doomsday: El-Warsha troupe give its take on classic 1940s musical

Ahram Online got a preview of El-Warsha’s troupe's latest project, Youm El-Qeiama (Doomsday), at the troupe's premises in downtown Cairo

Amira Noshokaty , Friday 23 Dec 2016
Photo by youmna atwa
Photo by youmna atwa
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Views: 3826

“Salamat Salamat Alf Salama, w etagel yomek ya eiama” (Oh well, oh well doomsday has been postponed) chanted the actors in one of the most enchanting operettas in Egyptian history.

Ahram Online took a look at El-Warsha’s troupe's latest project, Youm El-Qeiama (Doomsday), at the troupe's premises in downtown Cairo.

The play, written in the 1940s, was a hit when it was first performed to the musical and lyrical brilliance of music composer Zakaria Ahmed and vernacular poet Beiram El-Tonsy.

Photo by youmna atwa
Photo by youmna atwa

Set during the Ottoman era, the play revolves around a rumour that spreads in Egypt that doomsday is two days away.

The rumour is started by Egypt’s ruler (the Walli), who wants to steal money from Egyptians under the guise that he will give it to charity as a show of repentance.

Photo by youmna atwa
Photo by youmna atwa

El-Warsha’s more concise version of the musical involves an interesting, more modern form of storytelling. The storyteller sets the tone for the events with brief yet crucial narration that ties together the songs; the most powerful element of the original operetta.

“This version is different from the original operetta, which was quite long at almost three hours, with the characters and the theme of the main storyline quite complex and vague,” explained Hassan El-Geretly, founding director of El-Warsha and the director of the new version of the operetta.

Photo by youmna atwa
Photo by youmna atwa

The play’s songs are impressively performed and dramatised by some very talented actors /singers.

Portraying the people’s reaction to the doomsday rumour, the songs range from expressing praise to God and fear of God, to the joyous chants of the poor and needy who believe their prayers will finally be answered and they will be rewarded with heaven, to those who choose to enjoy their last moments on earth.

This mélange of feeling is skilfully conveyed by some very talented actors/singers. Using only traditional wooden chairs, the actors managed to sit, stand, make a bridge, a fortress, a platform and even ruins out of the compilation of chairs.

Photo by youmna atwa
Photo by youmna atwa

The lyrics made quite an impression on the audience, as they reflected the present day status quo with all its complex contradictions, even though the play was written in the 1940s.

The witty and sarcastic lyrics of Beiram El-Tonsy particularly stand out, with singing of love bursting out of the ruins of the city between the beautiful princess and the Levantine merchant.

The cast came together in a group dance, holding hands and moving left to right in the style of Egypt’s classic black and white films, drawing laughs from the audience.

In the play’s plot, the merchant is not the typical fearless hero, but it is the princess who is the brave one, fleeing her castle to escape an arranged marriage in search of the merchant with whom she fell in love, who lost all his merchandise to thieves on his way to Cairo.

Photo by youmna atwa
Photo by youmna atwa

The play ends on a happy note, with a celebration of the couple’s wedding to one of Zakaria Ahmed’s most famous songs, Ya halawet el donia ya halawa (Oh How beautiful the world is).

The play will be performed at the upcoming D-CAF contemporary art festival in March-April 2017

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