There is an abundance of the theme of sexuality and its suppression in the Egyptian art scene, from films to art exhibitions and theatre performances, and it was certainly present in the performance of ‘Countries that are narrower than love’, written by Saad Allah Wanous and directed by Tarek el Deweiry.
The play revolves around two runaway lovers, an old man and a young girl, who spend the night looking for shelter. As they wander the streets they encounter a group of drunkards harassing the girl, a bearded cab driver who kicks them out of his car and a dwarf who sympathises and leads them to a nightclub where they meet prostitutes and social outcasts.
Because of the several locations in which the play takes place, the set was minimal and easy to change. On a white curtain in the background a projection of the location appears, while on stage they placed items of furniture. The curtain also served as a tool for playing around with shadows.
Yet with all the wandering around, some settings in the middle were out of place and unnecessary. An example is a scene set in the desert, with both lovers facing the stage. He says he didn’t know she was religious, while she judges his atheism. The scene was out of place and didn’t delve much into the subject, only managing to tiptoe around religion, which was undeniably presented as an opposing force to the sexual desires of the two lovers throughout the play.
In a dialogue compromised of classical and colloquial Arabic, exchanges between Eva and Nabil take place. She tells him about her life, while he listens. The parts spoken colloquially seem natural, while in classical Arabic the actor’s approach on stage changes and the words sound forced and insincere. The alteration between the two languages came off as awkward.
The dialogue seemed promising in the first scene, yet with time it looked as though it was compromised of repetition and touched upon the subject in a very imposing way, when it should’ve been much simpler. The love between the two, though spoken about as strong and unshakable, didn’t look so on stage. While Nabil (Ashraf Farouk) was convincing on stage, Eva (Reem Hegab) failed to display any sort of affection.
What was striking about the production was the overt display of sexuality on stage. Alluding to the myth of Isaf and Naila, the two lovers who became a deity when turned to stone in an entwined position of lovemaking, dancers were frozen on stage in very aesthetically pleasing positions. In a scene of lovemaking between the two underneath the covers, the dancers started moving gracefully to John Lennon’s Imagine, a very clichéd choice. In the recording words such as religion, heaven and hell were cut out.
Though the play seemed to hit upon several ideas, it didn’t quite dig in and explore them. The actors didn’t draw the audience into their story and the acting was overdone a lot of the times. Yet despite the setbacks, it is worth seeing.
The last chance to watch the play is 9 December at 8.30 pm in the Hosabeer theatre in Ramses beside the Sekka el Hadid hospital.