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Tuesday, 23 October 2018

The Secret Life of Suitcases: Magical fantasy comes to Cairo

This uplifting show for children, co-produced by the UK's Unicorn Theatre, is featuring in the 8th Hakawy International Arts Festival for Children at the Cairo Opera House from 8 to 13 March

Amira Noshokaty , Sunday 11 Mar 2018
The Secret Life of Suitcases by Unicorn Theatre
The Secret Life of Suitcases by Unicorn Theatre, UK (Photo: courtesy of AFCA)
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There were lots of suitcases on display at the Hanager Arts Centre as young audiences lapped up The Secret Life of Suitcases, a children's show about a conscientious office worker who discovers the thrill of adventure.

The show is running at the the Cairo Opera House as part of the eighth edition of the Hakawy International Arts Festival for Children, from 8 to 13 March.

Originally produced by the Unicorn Theatre in the UK, the play has been performed in half a dozen countries, gently mocking that most common pitfall of adult life – focussing too much on work.

In The Secret Life of Suitcases, we meet Larry, who is the typical hard-working employee with no time for anything else, until a blue suitcase arrives at his office and he decides to open it. The play then displays all what Larry the puppet – is missing while he hides in his office.

With the aid of some props and a dash of imagination, the small suitcase transforms into a boat, a gateway to a forest, and even a rocket that sails into space – a series of journeys that are quite captivating.

Larry meets the people who have sent him numerous suitcases over the years, but which he has always ignored. There are suitcases full of shooting stars, rays of sunshine, and hugs and kisses when most needed.

These are suitcases bearing "things that matter" – as is explained in the course of the show. For they are the foundation of life itself, not to mention happiness.

With great ease, the play delves into the notion of the "busy adult life", explaining that emotions are more important than the material world – that feelings really do matter.

The Secret Life of Suitcases by Unicorn Theatre
The Secret Life of Suitcases by Unicorn Theatre, UK (Photo: courtesy of AFCA)

Larry is not alone on the stage, being joined by two human performers – one of them puppet-maker Ailie Cohen from Scotland. They animate the puppet, shift the props and play the role of Larry's talkative boss.

The two humans form part of the décor, and their integration into the scenery is quite impressive. In the opening scene they are wearing dull brown suits, but these are later removed to reveal t-shirts bearing scenes of nature and outer-space, the settings of Larry's imagined journeys.

The use of props is also impressive. The play makes use of suitcases that perform multiple roles; on the one hand, they are indeed suitcases, while on the other they transform into doors and offices.

"We have been performing this play for the past four years," explained Cohen, who co-wrote the show with Lewis Hetherington.

Since it was first co-produced with the Unicorn Theatre in Britain, the show has travelled to the United States, Singapore, Canada, Ireland and Australia. This year's Cairo performance is the first in Egypt.

"We integrated an interpreter into the show, to translate into Egyptian slang, as English is not the first language in Egypt," she explained.

Although the show touches on issues of interest to adults, it is suitable for children aged five and above, says Cohen, who has been working in children's theatre for the past 23 years.

To Cohen, what makes the theatrical experience special is the interaction and flow of energy back and forth between the audience and the performers, until they become one.

"Children are highly emotionally developed in general, and we need the audience," she said. "It's not like TV, where it is left somewhere in the corner playing while no one is watching. Theatre is an uplifting experience and should be part of every child's life."

Check the full programme of the 8th Hakawy International Arts Festival for Children here.

The Secret Life of Suitcases by Unicorn Theatre
The Secret Life of Suitcases by Unicorn Theatre, UK (Photo: courtesy of AFCA)

Ahram Online and Al-Ahram Weekly are media sponsors of this year's Hakawy festival.

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