Scene from The Last Supper directed by Ahmed El-Attar. (Photo: Moustapha Abdel-Ati)
The Last Supper is a title that raises one's curiosity. However, the play, written and directed by Ahmed El-Attar, that was staged in Falaki Theatre between 10 and 12 November is in no way a reproduction of the iconic image of Christ and his last supper with the twelve disciples. As usual, Attar likes to play with words, choosing catchy titles for his performances, attractive headlines often borrowed from other artistic works.
Void of the final deliverance, in El-Attar's play, the iconic meal becomes rather a routine meeting, a weekly feast gathering members of a bourgeois family. They sit at the table holding rather prosaic conversations but without communicating much. The meeting becomes artificial, forced and deprived of any emotions. The scenes have a linear development while the few words exchanged, the stories mentioned, and contradicting characters are soaked in the world of the absurd.
"The idea of the family has always interested me. Moreover, the relation between the father and other family members is reminiscent of the concepts that exist between the one who is governing and one who is governed. The family is the smallest cell of this societal pattern," El-Attar explains.
What adds to the equation are the relationships between masters and servants — yet another facet of control and submission.
El-Attar underlines the absurdity of the situation and that of a bourgeois futility. Throughout the play, we follow the evolution of the characters: Hassan speaks unabashedly about pleasures he draws from violent sex; his wife Fifi, who claims to be a confident woman herself, loses control, cries, and shouts in front of her husband and the servants. There is also a general, a highly respected individual and treated by the other characters as a irreproachable man. Finally, we also find a father who always has something to say, about everything and nothing.
The director creates a space in which the audience remains in close proximity to the actors. The stage of the Falaki Theatre has been transformed into a rectangular box in which actors and spectators are isolated from the outside world. As such, the useless conversations of the caricatured characters start weighing heavily on the audience, who find in them resemblances to people in their own lives.
Scenography designed by Hussein Beydoun accentuates the mannerisms of the wealthy class. As if trapped in a metal box or in a large fridge, the family is actually seated in the dining room, surrounded by walls decorated with metal plates. The dishes served become a game of fantasy, adding to the feeling of suspense and confusion. We see a sheep's head, chicken and turkey that all look like predators.
The characters talk only to say nothing; the bland stories never end. They rather stretch towards infinity. Some 50 minutes later, the lights suddenly go down. The play is over.
"I neither try to present a particular problem nor do I want to offer the solutions. My work is reflective, it is a way to share my vision," El-Attar concludes.
The Last Supper will be performed on 28 and 29 November, the two final days of the 'Rencontres à l’échelle' performing arts festival held in Marseille, France (8-29 November).