Wednesday,20 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1347, (1 - 7 June 2017)
Wednesday,20 February, 2019
Issue 1347, (1 - 7 June 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Murdering hope

Nora Amin has a lot to say about the Taliaa’ Theatre’s last production

The victory of building the ship with the loving singing Arius and his girlfriend

Several weeks after seeing The Day Song Was Murdered at the Taliaa’ Theatre, the concept of the show is still echoing in my mind; it has been ringing with greater vigour since the horrific events of 26 May.

Written by Mahmoud Gamal and directed by Tamer Karam, the play deals directly with the topics of fundamentalism and terrorism. The production presents itself in a mythical setting, recreating the ancient myth of the good brother vs the evil brother and the story of Noah’s ark. A talented playwright, Gamal offers the stage an original and well written script addressing Egypt’s current struggle against terrorism. Although all the names, places and references within the script remain mythical and fabricated, the content and narrative is clearly in reference to daily realities.

When two brothers go in opposite directions to seek happiness, one pursues the dream of hope and salvation by creating a community of solidarity where love rules and where the common goal is to build an ark to sail out of the desert. The other brother follows a journey of power and control, thinking that in the supremacy of power lies the only happiness possible, and shaping his power within a religious cult that protects him and employs force. The two opposite paths gradually confront each other, and the community of the good brother faces murder on a daily basis by the soldiers of the power. The main conflict is centred on singing: the taboo of song, and the power of song. People are slaughtered simply because they sing. One can easily interpret the song as art in general, and how the fundamentalist power seeks to ban all forms of art and self-expression. Song can also be seen more generally as mere hope, as a symbol of the dream, of freedom, a better future, change and human dignity. I could see both interpretations throughout the play.

Forces of evil slaughtering goodness

The theme seems rather commonplace and the plot is simplistic, all the discourse is predictable, yet this is an extremely well-made production. It was the mission of the director Tamer Karam to transform the stage into a live myth, a staged fable, and he managed to carry out that mission. Stage design played a vital role in shaping the visual identity and aesthetics of the production. Set designer Mohamed Saad created a set with a keen sense of perspective, and so we could see the temple of the evil brother with his priest plotting terrorist actions upstage, deep within, while centre-stage duo or group of actors were performing a scene; downstage was reserved for the most crucial confrontations.

Among these were iconic scenes in which individuals who believe in song are slaughtered. The movement and scenographic designs of the action of the slaughtering is inspired by the video of Egyptians slaughtered by ISIS in Libya: a powerful image that does not leave the mind and memory an image that sets the level of impact of the whole production. Between the upstage set of the devilish temple of the cult of terrorism, and the centre-stage horizontal and vertical construction of the ark, the geographic divisions of the stage alternate in a way that, though at times predictable, is impressive due to the ark growing and taking shape for the duration of the performance in tandem with the growth of hope and the struggle against terrorism and the live singing contributing to the myth that the director aims to construct. At moments it seems the building of the ark is a symbol for the construction of the performance.

The Day Song Was Murdered opts for the hard choice of live music. This choice relies on the strong assets of the production: the talented actors-singers and the live band of musicians that performs with a strong epic sense of theatre. The combination of live music and song, with the live actions of building the ark on stage produce an immense effect. The production ends with the victory of good over evil. The evil brother Silva’s young henchman Arius – who was adopted by Silva after Silva killed his mother – tries to kill the good brother Mada, who teaches him love in return. Such a Christian attitude has never seemed to work for the Copts, however, who cannot have peace no matter how much love and forgiveness they proffer. After slaughtering innocent people from Mada’s community he thus goes through a journey of self-exploration in a very emotional scene with Mada.

The two loving singers confront Arius with Silva

Arius gradually moves to the side of the ark builders and becomes the enemy of the cult that bred him. He turns against Silva and joins forces with the community of singers, who finally complete  the ark which transforms the stage into a gigantic icon of hope. The celebration helps us to forget that a ark cannot sail through sand, and that the location is still a desert, until rain drops on stage and by some miracle a river emerges in which the ark can move. The miracle of rain is interpreted as a sign of what love and solidarity can achieve, just as Mada and the young girl’s love for Arius changes him.

There is a message that speaks to us directly in The Day Song Was Murdered, emotional and imaginary fuel to help the community of survivors get past the trauma, though I cannot see a rational explanation of why or how love could ever win over terrorism. I respect the intellectual message and the artistic creation of the staged myth, but I do not believe good faith and collective love will defeat ISIS. The Day Song Was Murdered inspires us with a fictional epic dream that replaces our everyday horror but it creates a false catharsis that becomes very painful once, by leaving the theatre, we wake up.

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