In a series of visual theatrical skits set up against a rough backdrop of a construction site, The Mincer presents a framework where the mechanism of how we live our lives is questioned.
Before hitting the stage of Rawabet Theatre on 8 and 9 December, the play was already performed in Alexandria in November at the Jesuits Theatre and Bibliotheca Alexandrina.
The Mincer is written by Abdel Naem and directed by Hakeem Abdel Naem and Nadet Adel. The play explores the theme of the current human condition, stuck in a process of repetition within the world order we exist in. Relying mostly on movement, with little words spoken between the characters or to the audience, the performance starts off with a monologue by Sherif Dossouky before we move to a series of skits that involve four young actors.
At first sight, the performance strikes as fragmented and perhaps even elusive from its concept. Upon a post-performance reflection, the audience is able to further grasp its deep concept.
The scenography by Kareem Abdel Naem, also an actor in the performance, creates a grim state of toughness. The stage is filled with dusty fallen leaves with a backdrop of a construction site giving the feeling that these actors have been there since a long time.
Throughout the performance, the actors struggle within a larger system, trying to find a voice. They fight over a microphone they find hidden in the dust, but it never seems to work unless the older actor Sherif Dossouky is the one that uses it.
“The microphone represents the desire to express why they want to change the process,” Abdel Naeim explains to Ahram Online after the performance.
Rather than providing answers, the director uses the performance to pose questions. Naeim explains that he prefers to focus on questions to start a conversation.
Drawing on an example of a production line in a factory where each task has a very specific role, the director explores the idea of an error that could take place in a set system, within the mechanism we are used to. If one of the rings of the chain falls, the entire production line collapses. Reflecting back on society, the director explores how processes of repetition or routine can be effective in controlling a large group of humans.
“They (the authorities) use the tools at their disposal: radio, TV, newspapers, laws and daily routine to format brains with the system of the production line, which has a repetitive nature so it turns into how we define life,” Abdel Naem says, further elaborating that this process turns into us believing this is how life has always been, and we take our current situation as a given, not a phase that could change.
This routine then becomes part of the entire social consciousness, making its way into folk sayings, music, and at times even religion and tradition.
The performance is commenting on when an individual or a group attempt to create an error in this production line, whether out of boredom with the routine or out of simply stopping to ask “Why”?
The scenes with the microphone where the actors struggle for the right to voice their ideas bring back vivid memories from the Egyptian uprising of 2011. These moments are particularly reminiscent of scenes when protesters could not reach a consensus on demands or how to move forward with the revolution. In other moments, when consensus is reached, authorities do not give them the platform to vocalise those demands.
The Mincer performance at Rawabet theatre (Photo: Rowan El Shimi)
But even simply from day-to-day interactions, society's patriarchal structure has certain expectations from youth within the family. There is very little room for anyone to live in an alternative way or go against the system.
The Mincer uses a very specific socio-political backdrop: we see the dusty run-down atmosphere, neon lights characteristic to Egypt, or laser lights pointed directly to the audience's faces. At the same time, however, the performance toys with many universal notions, opening the floor, time and again, to re-examining the governing concepts on which our lives are dependent, regardless of geographical positioning.
The Mincer is part of a larger project funded by the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture to explore alternative spaces for performing arts. Besides the play, a documentary film is being produced by Rufy's studio in Alexandria and directed by Mohamed El-Hadidi. The film will premier during the second half of December in Alexandria.