Some stories and mysteries of Upper Egypt are found at the thresholds of houses; they attract and invite you to look and uncover the secrets that are long-hidden behind closed doors.
These secrets were now being brought to light through Thresholds of Homes (Atabet El-Beyoot) – Tales from Upper Egypt, a theatre play written and directed by Mahmoud Aboudoma and performed by the alternative theatre troupe from Alexandria.
The play was staged on 27 March at Hanager Arts Centre, opening the celebrations of World Theatre Day and the silver jubilee of Egypt's independent theatre movement.
Following the nostalgic tune by Rageh Daoud, arranged by Ayman Massaoud, five actors – Awatef Ibrahim, Khaled Raafat, Mohamed El-Hagrasy, Sara El-Hawary and Abeer Ali Hozein – appear on stage.
Each of the characters stands behind old doors that resemble the gates of houses in Upper Egypt’s rural areas. The actors, who shift between narrators and artists entering the skin of the characters, approach the proscenium and take their seats. They remain on stage throughout the performance as they are enveloped with the atmosphere of storytelling, recounting the tales of Upper Egypt, Aboudoma’s homeland.
"Upper Egypt is a treasure of stories and captivating mysteries," explains the playwright and director as we proceed to watch a show, which is based on two stories: 'Dawlat' and 'One Eye Laughing, The Other Eye Weeping,' taken from the collection Thresholds of Homes – Tales from Upper Egypt, hence title of the play.
The anthology was published recently by Dar Sharqiyat lil-Nashr wa-al-Tawzi (2015).
In both stories chosen for the stage, Aboudoma points to the strict, conservative life dominating Upper Egypt. He looks into the most common traditions and customs, where women are required to refrain from passion and love. It is under the tag of honour and chastity that human emotions are imprisoned and the most spontaneous adventures and passions are swept under the carpet.
Beyond the thematic content, Aboudoma also brings the visuals of Upper Egypt to the stage. We find the ancient gates of the houses, the chairs and divans characteristic to the region, the wooden windows and decorative details that recreate the intimacy of the locations presented.
At times, the doors become barriers, guarding the actor-narrators in a cell as they perform as people and families from Upper Egypt. At other times, they become channels allowing the stories to be told in great confidence.
Benefiting from a window placed upstage, the director places a screen on which scenes from Egypt’s rural life, the houses and their inhabitants, are projected. The window creates an ability to embark on a real journey to the south of Egypt. In this symbolic quest for freedom, we are taken back and forth to experience the action on the stage and the one on the screen, moving continuously between the past and present.
At some point, the audience becomes enchanted with storytelling, always questioning: is it a reality or a myth? However we choose to answer this question, the tales keep carrying the traces of long-gone yesterday. Those coming from the south are embedded in many secrets and captivating mysteries.
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