Two very good friends, both playing themselves, Lisa Hammond and Rachel Spence, are in a search of the perfect idea for a play, as they have no notion of what it should be about. They decide to go onto the streets of London and ask the British public for their interpretations of the roles they should feature.
'No Idea', a two-hour-long, light comedy, takes place on a one-set stage with a black background and some white drapes, cut between scenes; designed to give emphasis to the two characters.
The first scene has Irish music playing in the background and the two actors are standing still under the spotlight. Lisa takes a wooden frame and places it on parts of Rachel’s body, followed by Rachel doing the same thing to Lisa. The frame showcases their features. Rachel is tall and thin with long, dark, brown hair, whereas Lisa is a dwarf, though very pretty with bobbed hair. This frame resembles how the natural features of these young women will determine their roles in the play and in life.
Next the audience is taken on a journey to find the theme for their new play as they head to the streets, interviewing people randomly about their thoughts on suitable roles for them both. The opinions are funny and ridiculous, yet nevertheless, they try them out. The first impression is that Lisa, with 'her cheeky face' and 'bubbly' character will be the lead and Rachel will be Lisa’s 'shadow' or the 'invisible one', following Lisa around.
'Cheeky face' becomes a scene on its own. Rachel plays the keyboard and Lisa sings and dances to the 'Cheeky face' song, mocking the misconceptions the British public have on dwarfism. Lisa gracefully glides across the stage and the audience can picture the actor in her, ignore her disability and applaud her routine and humorous lyrics.
As both women decide not to take those interviews into account, they opt to go back to the public but this time, people have to create the characters and the plot of the play. Again, Lisa is the 'bubbly', funny little person, with Rachel her shadow and care- giver. However, this time, Lisa is portrayed as Rachel’s rich friend. Why rich? The public agree that it is more suitable to represent Lisa as a wealthy heiress, so the audience won't just sympathise with her physical condition. However, step-by-step Rachel becomes the main character of the play and slowly Lisa - unintentionally, because of her disability - is neglected throughout the story. Her role fades as the story proceeds until she explodes with anger and decides not to play along anymore. She and Rachel break their pact and go back to end the play with the 'Cheeky face' song, adding more mockery to the original lyrics.
With the plain stage, the emphasis is automatically on the characters. Their talent draws the eye as they 'paint' the scenery and the people they meet. Director Lee Simpson uses recorded audio of the actual interviews conducted in the streets of London, to add to the audience's imagination of the scenery.
With their cockney British accents, both characters bring the renowned, London theatre experience here to Egypt. The script is perfectly written with a very appealing dialogue, yet the most noticeable feature of British theatre in Cairo is that the British sense of humour is not understood among locals. The production had to go through the script before presenting it, for some last-minute editing here in Cairo, so as not to “provoke or disrespect the Egyptian audience,” explained Spence. To our surprise, this process was not even considered when presenting 'No Idea' in Damascus.
Simpson gives a special insight into the reality of how appearances still affect the fate of those considered 'different' from the rest of us, regardless of the level of awareness encouraged throughout the world. Although Lisa Hammoud is a talented young actress, she still feels 'disabled' and cannot get away from that no matter how hard she tries. “There is more awareness now and the British government is giving support to those with disabilities, yet it is the attitude of the public that has not changed.” says Hammoud.
Simpson demonstrates this idea with extraordinary artistic music interloops, with pictures switching around both actresses. He places Rachel’s face on Lisa’s body and vice-versa before the second set of interviews with the public. The results are in Rachel’s favour as the main character of the play according to the public, and right after Lisa’s explosion, both characters switch their portraits back.
'No Idea' is educational, entertaining, and definitely worth watching, though the chances of Lisa and Rachel performing in Cairo again are uncertain.
'No Idea' was performed on 7 December at El Sawy Culturewheel. The play was shown previously in Damascus, Syria as part of the British Council 'New Work-New Audiences' project in the Arab region, aiming to empower the performing arts in developing cultural understanding, trust and dialogue among audiences in MENA and the UK.