On its second day, the ninth Festival Des Jeunes Créateurs (Festival for Creative Youth) featured an average performance by theatre director Osama Magdy and The Company Misr group, entitled Al Galad Wal Mahkoum Aleih Bel Edam(The Executioner and the Prisoner on Death Sentence).
The stage of the French Institute in Mounira (Cairo) resembled a primitive train station in a poor Egyptian village. The train stops for a technical disturbance that led to the prisoner and the executioner awaiting another train to pick them up. Because this village is so isolated and neglected by the Egyptian government they have a long wait, during which the prisoner about to be executed (played by Waleed Al Foli) and his executioner (Ahmed Magdy) have a conversation with the village locals, including the station officer (Islam Abbas), his wife (Dalia Mohamed) and mentally disabled son (Omar Ali).
The play was originally written in 1971 by Egyptian author Fathi Radwan and directed by Osama Magdy, who treated the original text to fit today’s Egypt, highlighting the brutal role of government authorities and the passiveness of Egyptian society prior to the January 25 Revolution.
Indeed, the director managed to deliver his message: the brutal executioner represented Egypt’s governmental authorities. Particularly poignant was the way the poor villagers feared the executioner, although they knew nothing about him. His sudden visit paralysed their lives that day.
All characters feared the arrogant executioner at the beginning and didn’t stand up for themselves. They simply followed his orders. The family represented the hesitant, passive Egyptian family of the village that always feared to question authorities.
Magdy also shed light on the government’s abandonment of this village. The old train station officer lived his entire life waiting for a promotion that never came through and there was also a beggar who had been waiting to be hired. Feeling neglected by the government, both men prayed for a train accident of some sort to gain some attention.
In the role of the executioner, Ahmed Magdy captured the essence of the character; a vicious, arrogant man who never gave any compassion or generosity to anyone. Magdy was very convincing, drawing on his character’s inhumane crimes committed during his entire life and mastering the formal Arabic dialect the play’s script was written in.
As for the prisoner and the beggar, both characters were equally weak and insufficiently developed. Although the prisoner is considered the protagonist, the executioner, according to the script, was more significant in the play.
Through the dark setting of the story and the harsh conversations between the executioner, whose presence out-shown all others, and the rest of the characters, it was the wife and son that broke the silent tense moments with comic reactions and phrases that seemed appealing to the audience.
In spite of Egyptian dialect of the play directed to the Egyptian audience, they could not relate to the play and many parts were not convincing. Over-expressive acting killed spontaneity, which is not only a skill, but also helps the play to become real. Moreover, scene changes were rather abrupt: as if the play had to progress very quickly, but lacked justification for this hastiness.
For instance, in one scene, the beggar and station officer pray for an accident to happen and it occurs immediately. A minute later two passengers run for help to save the rest of the passengers trapped inside the train and ask for chains. Here, the executioner regrets all his wrong-doings and orders his prisoner to use the chains on his wrists to help the passengers – in essence releasing him. The executioner wants this act to be his first good deed, despite the knowledge that he will be severely punished by authorities.
Furthermore, the play showed its weakness as a creative production when the prisoner and executioner are supposed to share an intimate moment. The prisoner understands what the executioner is putting at stake and is grateful, seeing the good side of his executioner.
But in the performance, the scene was so exaggerated. The director subconsciously, of course, created a romantic setting for the two characters with yellow and red dim lights, and touching music in the background as both characters expressed their feelings. They held hands for a long time and hugged on their knees for a moment. A number of audience members began to quietly giggle as the scene looked like a love scene - risking to be understood as homosexual!
The ending of the play came equally abruptly and its contents were quite predictable. The director concentrated mainly on drawing out the long dialogue between the executioner and the villagers and dropped the whole mise-en-scène of the ending. The executioner confesses his wrong-doings to God and commits suicide. As he kills himself, the mentally retarded son witnesses the whole incident and screams for his mother after he notices that the brutal man is dead. With his scream, the play ends.
The play was a one-set stage portraying a primitive train station as seen in the local villages across Egypt. The stage design was convincing with a primitive platform and beige paint surrounded by greenery reminiscent of Egypt’s countryside.
The actors’ costumes and make-up were convincing, as they strengthened the ages and social class of the poor villagers. The only drawback was the executioner’s costume, that was more of a hip young man or a young, modern biker you often see on the streets of Cairo today, with a hiking vest and army boots. This outfit definitely doesn't fit a governmental employee - especially an executioner!
Mixed reactions were witnessed among audience when the play ended, among those who left the minute the lights were turned on as the presenter gave credit to performers and those who sat there to the last minute and cheered. With all those flaws throughout the duration of The Company Misr’s play, it remains very amateurish.
Supporting young Egyptian theatrical creation, the French Institute in Egypt dedicated its auditorium to the Festival Des Jeunes Créateurs 2011 for six performances that provide staging of text written by international dramatists and appear as a witness of the social and political tensions that crossed Egyptian society 25 January. Forming the jury board are: Vincent Ecrepont, author and French director; Ayman El Shiwy, professor of theatrical arts and Mohamed Omar, director, actor and stage designer.
Throughout the festival, the chairman of the jury board, Vincent Ecrepont, offers the young participants along, with others a week-long workshop in contemporary theatre.
Festival Des Jeunes Créateurs continues until 11 June 2011, by which the jury will name the winners of this year’s festival. The best show, best director, best set design, best actress and best actor will be awarded.