Sykes-Picot: The Legacy. Five modern plays by Hannah Khalil, Hassan Abdulrazzak, and Joshua Hinds.

The genesis of this collection of short plays was an event entitled Gather for Gaza organised by Arts Canteen in Walthamstow, London, in 2014.

Among the items presented was a profoundly moving and disturbing performance of Hassan Abdulrazzak’s play The Tune is Always Better on the Outside and it became apparent in discussion with directors, actors, and playwrights that there is a growing body of work that explores aspects of the legacy of the Sykes-Picot agreement concluded during the First World War, and which continues to shape the destiny of the Middle East.

It is hoped that this initial collection will result in performances, debate, and the writing of more plays around a theme that seems to grow ever more relevant.

 

Kegan Paul proudly introduces a collection of five of Ahmed Fagih’s works intended for the stage — translated from their original Arabic into English. Gazelles, the central play within the book, contains many of Fagih’s common themes. The story of Jabar, a Bedouin desert guide, and two westerners, Victor and Helena, the play examines many of the issues involved in the complex and delicate relationship between eastern and western cultures. All the plays published in this collection have already appeared in theatre productions. Filled with the same imagery and poetic fancy Fagih’s prose works are renowned for, Gazelles and Other Plays will appeal to theatre aficionados and general readers alike.

I am Yusuf and This Is My Brother is a powerful, poetic exploration of history, memory and different forms of love. ‘Before it happened I didn’t know those people existed. Now I’m not certain that we do…’ January 1948. Palestine. The British Mandate is ending. The UN is voting on who will control what part of the land. Ali is in love with Nada – but he is in despair. Her father won’t let them marry because his brother Yusuf is ‘odd’ with his own eccentric, child-like point of view. Rufus, a soldier on the occupying British forces, longs for the cold fogs of Sheffield. War begins and, as the villagers are scattered and become refugees, the secret that’s kept Ali and Nada apart is revealed. Although set within a politically charged context, the play is full of haunting, dreamlike poetry rather than didactic polemicism. Instead of simply exploring the political debate, Zuabi concentrates more on the richness of language and culture. With a keen awareness of the vulnerability and fragile ephemerality of life, I am Yusuf and This Is My Brother explores humanity and love in the context of loss and death.

In Nawal El Saadawi’s play “God Resigns”, the prophets and great women gather for a meeting with God. Satan arrives to tender his resignation, but neither Jesus, Mohammad, nor Moses is willing to replace him. Finally, God himself resigns in disgust. Eygptian officials declared the work heretical because ‘God cannot resign’ and ordered her publisher to destroy all copies. El Saadawi was charged with insulting Islam and was threatened with arrest on return to Egypt. “Isis” is a critique of the discriminatory rules that control women – the daughters of Isis – in North Africa and the Middle East today. Both plays develop key themes of El Saadawi’s work: that religions are inimical to women and the poor; that the oppression of women is reprehensible and not solely characteristic of the Middle East or the Third World; and that free speech is fundamental to any society. This work includes introduction by Adele Newson-Horst, along with introductions to both plays.