Emirati play grabs attention at Sharm el-Sheikh theatre festival

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A United Arab Emirates play “A Seeing Heart” that grabbed the attention of the audience at Sharm el-Sheikh International Theatre for Youth, testifies to the progress in Emirati theatre.

“A Seeing Heart” tells the story of a man who is conscripted into the army and goes to war to defend his country. His blind mother and ageing father count the days before his return, expecting him to come back with victory. They imagine him being carried as a war hero on the shoulders of his colleagues. However, when he returns from the battlefield, the soldier is carried on his colleagues’ shoulders but as a dead body.

The audience discovers he had left for the battlefield only two days after getting married. His wife is grieved at the news of his death but bears it bravely.

The show includes twists and turns that keep audiences mesmerised.

“We wanted to show everybody that we have a powerful theatre in the United Arab Emirates,” said play director Saeed al-Harsh. “The UAE theatre has absorbed all international influences and came out with its own distinct nature.”

The Sharm el-Sheikh International Festival for Youth concluded April 8 after eight days of activity. A total of 45 countries participated in the festival this year along with dozens of theatre experts, actors, playwrights, critics and artists.

Attracting youth to theatre and promoting Sharm el-Sheikh as a tourist destination has been a goal of the festival since its first edition three years ago.

The festival’s top prizes went to “Making a Living,” an entry from Oman from an adaptation of a text written by Bahraini playwright Jamal Saqr; Kuwait’s “Madness Diary,” an adaptation by Youssef al-Hashash of a work by Russian dramatist Nikolai Gogol; and Italy’s “Wooden Prison,” which was presented by a team of the American Academy in Rome . “A Seeing Heart” was awarded a certificate of appreciation.

It took the makers of the Emirati show Herculean efforts to present it in Sharm el-Sheikh. The last time the show was performed was in Dubai more than a year ago.

Most of the original actors and actresses could not travel to Egypt. Last-minute arrangements had the show’s team arriving in Sharm el-Sheikh a short time before the festival started.

When they arrived, the cast members discovered that the stage was not properly set, the decorations were not complete, the lighting system was far from perfect and the space was not adequate.

Harsh said the troupe had to cancel many scenes and improvise on decorations and lighting. However, the effort and the mastery of the final show were duly appreciated.

Festival Director Mazen el-Gharabawi said, “Like everybody else,” he was touched by “A Seeing Heart.”

“The theme of the play was more than wonderful,” Gharabawi said. “The show was performed by a group of enthusiastic young people who succeeded in winning the admiration of everybody present.”

The festival was named this year for Egyptian theatre and acting icon Mohamed Sobhi. It included theatre workshops, providing platforms for exchanging expertise and networking between artists and experts.

“They gave us the chance to get knowledge about the progress in the performing art of other countries,” said Harsh, who participated in the workshops.

Art critics positively reviewed the Emirati group’s performance, noting that UAE theatre would enrich Arab theatre as a whole and allow the Gulf country to influence stage performance for the first time.

“The Emiratis have succeeded in incorporating the theatre into their own local culture,” said Egyptian theatre critic Khaled Raslan. “The UAE theatre mainly focuses on local themes with a human nature, but this human nature gives the same themes an international dimension.”

Human nature is an intrinsic part of the staging of “A Seeing Heart.” This was probably why theatre audiences were keen to see the play, even as it was scheduled to be performed at the end of the final day of the festival.

Harsh and his colleagues said they would return to Sharm el-Sheikh next year with the goal of winning the top prize.

“UAE theatre is coming up, I assure you,” he said. “We are in continual development, working hard and improving day after day as we aim to the top.”

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