Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Becoming Dramaturgy: Kamaal Hussain @ Edfringe 2017

The Thief of Baghdad


“One wants to tell a story, like

 Scheherazade, in order not to 

die.  It’s one of the oldest 


of mankind.  It’s a way of 

stalling death.”  

Carlos Fuentes

Tickets:  £10 (£8 concs)
Dates:  2 – 27 August 2017 (not Mondays)                       Time:  15:00                           

Magic and reality collide as one British Arab navigates the voyages of Sindbad and tries to make sense of his own family’s migration to the UK.  An absorbing, moving, funny tale, full of unexpected twists and turns. 

Becoming Scheherazade uses The Arabian Nights; Scheherazade’s tales that spared her from the King’s axe, woven with the seven voyages of Sindbad and navigating the journey of the narrator’s life.  Becoming Scheherazade is the first iteration of a broader project collecting 1,001 stories from Arabs living in the West. 

Becoming Scheherazade will create a contemporary parallel of the 1,001 Arabian Nights and, like Scheherazade, tell stories to stave off annihilation.

What was the inspiration for this performance?
As an Iraqi, I have been looking closely at the representations of Arabs in the West, in the light of a number of Middle Eastern wars, terrorist attacks and the rise of the far right.  I wanted to respond, but for a number of years, wasn't sure of the vehicle to do so.  As a theatre maker, it's obvious that theatre is the medium for me, but how do I get those across, outside of a verbatim approach.  

I was sent a copy of a new translation of the Arabian Nights, and on reading the voyages of Sindbad, was struck by the parallels between his voyages, and the migration of my family to the UK.  The elements of the fantastical are transferable, the trial and tribulations implicit in both stories.  And Becoming Scheherazade was born.  This is the story of my family, and of my life, mingled with the voyages of Sindbad, each drawing from the other.  

The aim is to continue this approach, create further productions with other people's stories, and linking them to other Arabian Nights tales, ambitiously aiming for 1,001 real stories to parallel the 1,001 Nights.

Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas?  

I believe performance, especially live performance offers an immediacy unparalleled elsewhere.  As an audience, being in front of a real person, who is honestly presenting their truth is an incomparable means of engendering empathy.

How did you become interested in making

Honestly, the usual routes - theatre at school, youth theatre.  I loved the struggle to convey the truth of a character, finding wrinkles, drawing out humanity.

Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?  

Not specifically, though with this being very personal, it has been a challenge to draw the line between the character and myself as the performer and myself, the man.

Does the show fit with your usual productions?
It does, thematically, though this is the first time I have produced something so personal.  For a long time, my shows have focussed on the marginalised, people who fall between the cracks.  For me, as this is personal, I'll let you draw the parallels.  I'm a gay atheist Arab....

What do you hope that the audience will experience?  

I hope that they will be moved, laugh, maybe cry, but mainly enjoy the romp!  There are elements in the show where I am directly asking them to put them in the place of some of my family.  I hope this brings about thought and discussion of the stories they hear and see.

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?  

I wanted to find a way for this to be participative, without being terrifying for an audience.  a lot of thought has gone into that element of the show.  I think it's gentle, but effective.  And I don't want to give away too much more!

“Kamaal Hussain’s performance of his own life-story through the prism of Sinbad’s seven voyages was a highlight of They Shall Not Pass at Limehouse Town Hall. On the evidence of last night, and Kamaal’s richly deserved standing ovation, it’s going to be great.” Inky Cloak – from a scratch performance.

Emerging theatre company, The Thief of Baghdad, presents the premiere of Becoming Scheherazade at Summerhall in 2017’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival.  Founded in 2016 by Artistic Director Kamaal Hussain, The Thief of Baghdad fuses tales from the 1,001 Arabian Nights with contemporary stories of Arab migration to the West.  Kamaal trained at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, and has worked extensively as both an actor and director for over 25 years.  For this project he is joined by Tom Power as designer and Bronwen Carr as associate director.

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