One step closer to professional theatre as Egypt universities festival closes

May Selim, Friday 19 Feb 2016

The second edition of Season of the University Theatre's Stars has just come to an end

Picnic on the Battlefield
Picnic on the Battlefield (Photo: Bassam Al Zoghby)

Filled with performances by young theatre-enthusiasts, the ten days of the Season of the University Theatre's Stars festival passed very quickly.

The entry queue was very long in front of the El-Ibdaa (The Creativity Centre), where each day -- between 7 and 17 February -- at 8pm sharp, the stage was taken by one of the troupes in the competition.

Finding a place was not an easy task, since families and friends of the young creators were all there. Topped with the regular audience eager to see the young talents, the whole atmosphere was very inspiring.

In its second edition, the festival hosted performances prepared especially for this occasion by students from several universities: Cairo University, Ain-Shams, Helwan, as well as the private institution Al-Mostaqbal (Future University).

The students presented their work in front of the audience and the jury consisting of actor Mohamed Riyadh, stylist Marwa Ouda, scenographer Amr Abdallah and theatre critic Abla El-Roweini, headed by actor Ezzat El-Alayli.

In the variety of performances, some of them demanded more effort and work, disappointing in their exaggerated acting, the mise-en-scene that lacked rhythm, scenography that tumbled under random choices of its components.

For example, in Orpheus, directed by Mostafa El-Sayed, a play inspired by Greek mythology, the choice of spectacle as theatrical form overshadowed acting and the mise-en-scene.

Despite a good choice of music and interesting body language, the scenography was stuffed with panels carrying symbolic, yet very naive, representations of evil. Upstage, the mountain that opened up, allowing the characters to move between the two worlds, was probably among the rare positive visual aspects of the play.  

In turn, other plays, such as El-Aabda, Hom and Hamlet, suffered from an exaggerated interpretation, with the actors pushing their face and bodily expressions to the maximum. On the contrary to what we saw on the stage, in both plays, the complex characters needed more refined work.

Equally confusing was yet another play, El-Ahd El-Mafqoud, that particularly lacked balance in the scenes depicting nightmares.

The festival, however, also shone with some well compiled theatrical works. They underscored a well-rounded creativity of the young amateurs, even if it was apparent in chosen segments of the work and not the whole play. The jury pointed to those praiseworthy elements by awarding them with a number of certificates and honouring the outstanding details.

A Dangerous Turn
Dangerous Turn (Photo: Sayed Helmy)

Monhana Khatar (Dangerous Turn), by the English writer J. B. Priestley, directed by Mohamed Abdel-Sattar, a play that won the first prize for the best performance and best mise-en-scene, was precisely the performance where all the theatrical components met together in a creative synergy.

Here we found plausible acting (Rana Khattab who won an award for the best actress), with well designed movement, good scenography, presenting the typical environment of a bourgeois family, and proper lighting that moves between scenes with flashback or creates contrasts between darker tones and spots on specific scenes.

Dangerous Turn introduces a friendly family evening, during which the characters unveil their deepest secrets in what becomes a downward spiral. The search for truth is quite disturbing especially when social life is impossible to pursue without infusing it with lies and secrets. 

Though, in his text, Priestley built the narrative with the backdrop of western culture of the 1930s, while the performance’s subject and its presentation, spoke to the audiences. To accommodate all the attendees, the Dangerous Turn had to be staged twice in a row.

The winner of the second prize for the best performance was Picnic on the Battlefield (Nozha fi Ard El-Maaraka) by Fernando Arrabal, directed by Karim Shohdy. Despite the troublesome subject matter of war, Shohdy stressed the comic element of the play making the audience laugh throughout the performance.

In this black comedy we meet parents who decide to visit their son, a soldier, on the battlefield. The theme generates absurd scenes where the actors excel in acting, singing and body expression. No wonder Nadim Hisham, in the protagonist role, won the best actor award. 

The sensation of absurdity in the world was also evident in the Endgame (Nehayet El-Leaba), winner of the third prize for the best performance. Based on the text by Samuel Beckett, the play was adapted and directed by Youssef Mostafa. 

The director based it on two characters (instead of four) underscoring the interdependent relation between the blind and unable- to-stand Hamm and his servant Clov, who is unable to sit. Staying at home all the time, both Hamm and Clov are isolated from the world, torn between feelings of resentment and pity towards one another.

Despite occasional exaggerations, the performance brought to the fore well balanced acting skills whilst the lighting helped emphasise the scenography and props, even if the latter component was not always put into good use.

As the festival ended, we walk away with a feeling of discovery of many interesting talents in Egypt's theatre scene. There are many potentialities to develop further, the winners of the festival will have an opportunity to enroll in the Actors’ Studio, which operates under the supervision of Khaled Galal, also head of the Creativity Centre and responsible for the cultural production sector within the Ministry of Culture.

While most applicants are required to pass entry tests, the festival's best talents will be admitted directly.

Moreover, the winning performances will be restaged at the Creativity Centre in the upcoming weeks.

Endgame (Photo: Robert Amir Al-Amir)

Awards and certificates:

First prize for the best performance: Dangerous Turn

Second prize for the best performance: Picnic on the Battlefield

Third prize for the best performance: Endgame

Award for the best director: ex aequo for Mohamed Abdel-Sattar for Dangerous Turn and Youssef Mostafa for Endgame

Award for the best actress: ex aequo for Sarah Magdi for her role in Picnic on the Battlefield and Rana Khattab for her role in Dangerous Turn

Award for the best actor: Nadim Hisham for his role in Picnic on the Battlefield

Award for the best scenography: ex aequo for Bassem Khairy for Rashomon and Mohamed Abdel-Sattar for Dangerous Turn

Award for the best costumes: ex aequo for Riham Younes for Rashomon and Lobna El-Mansi for Squadron of Death.

Appreciation certificate for makeup: Orpheus

Appreciation certificate for body expression: ex aequo for Squadron of Death and Picnic on the Battlefield.

Appreciation certificate for music Endgame et Orpheus

Appreciation certificate for lighting techniques: ex aequo for Rashomon and Endgame

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