Reviving the flame: El-Warsha, Egypt’s first independent theatre troupe, turns 35

Amira Noshokaty , Saturday 19 Nov 2022

On Thursday El-Warsha, Egypt’s first independent theatre troupe, celebrated 35 years of safeguarding intangible cultural heritage with a performance at Rawabet Theatre in the heart of downtown Cairo.



The troupe has focused on reviving the ancient art of story-telling, stick dance, the Sirah of Bani Helal and songs of Egypt’s music hall repertoire of the 1920s.

The performance kicked off with a group song Ehmed Rabak (“Be Grateful to God”), which is a heritage song of El-Tanboura troupe. This was followed by A Drop of Honey, the sarcastic folk story told by Abanoub Zakaria that depicts a feud that lasted years and killed tens of people and how it was sparked by a mere drop of honey.

“Since we first started in 1987, El-Warsha has always been about experimenting, training new generations, roaming all over Egypt and the world, networking and reaching out to civil society,” explained Hassan El-Geretly, founder of El Warsha.

Egypt’s first independent troupe has always been an inspirational model for safeguarding elements of intangible cultural heritage and passing it smoothly to the new generations. They have adopted the concept of “reviving the flame rather than worshiping the ashes,”

The success of El-Warsha – which means “a workshop” – is that it is exactly like its name. It is a place where young talents learn about their heritage, experiment, add to it and evolve. Lots of stars have emerged from El-Warsha, including renowned actors like Abla Kamel and Said Ragab to name but a few. But El-Warsha’s true charm is that it is not about stardom, it is more concerned with evolving of arts and artists while leaning on heritage.

Next in the performance was a song “from the operetta El-Fan Sas written by vernacular poet Fouad Haddad and originally sung by the choir of Association of Upper Egypt for Education and Development,” explained El-Geretly.

“The choir was first established by Sister Celest El-Khayat and our colleague Mido Gamal who was a member of the choir as a child, will lead this song,” he added.

This was followed by the story of a homeless woman written and told by talented Fadi Shehata. It unfolded the harsh and beautiful face of a woman who lived her life on the cruel streets of Cairo where ironically she meets all of her guardian angels.

It was stitched with another folk story that followed the narrative of El-Shater Hassan. The story, which was told by Shoruk Zahran, is from the book of Hekayat Al-Dakahlia, a compilation of folk stories that were collected by Fattouh Ahmed Farag and published by El-Warsha.

The storytelling segment ended with a very witty story from African heritage, told by Samia Jaheen. It followed the life of a hat seller and how he learned a life lesson from the monkeys he encountered on his way to the market to sell his hats.

All of such richness and diversity of these stories were captured by illustrator Mohamed Wahba, an El-Warsha partner, noted El-Geretly. He has previously worked with the troupe, illustrating 5,800 pages of the Sirah (“Life Story”) epic.

The performance then sailed into the heart of poetry as Shimaa El-Alily recited a poem by late poet Said Heggab, and Mervat El-Jissiri sang one of his songs.

Then a selection of songs of renowned stars Shokoko and Ismail Yassin, kings of Monologues by Bahaa Tolba and Mohamed Shaarawi followed.

The concert ended on aall-time favourite song by renowned poetry pillar Salah Jaheen, Mamma Setto (Grandma) sung by Samia Jaheen.  

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