Theatre review - The Prophet

Egypt is at a crossroads. Having experienced its first democratic presidential election, the nation remains riven by conflict with both the military and the Islamists struggling for power. So Hassan Abdulrazzak’s theatrical response to last year’s popular uprising, beautifully realised by Christopher Haydon, is particularly timely.

Hisham (Nitzan Sharron) is working on his second novel but has writer’s block. He is obsessed with getting his work translated into English. His wife Layla (Sasha Behar) is concerned that their sex life is suffering as a consequence. Meanwhile, in sharp contrast to these domestic concerns, thousands of protestors are on the streets calling for the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak.

Although Hisham is a dissident, writing about revolution, he prefers to meet his smooth-talking literary agent, Suzanne (Melanie Jessop), than support the demonstrators. Layla works as an engineer for Vodafone and is horrified when her boss, Hani (Silas Carson), instructs her to shut down the network. She joins the protests and reaches an important decision about her stagnant marriage. At the same time, Hisham is forced to face a past betrayal and undergoes a profound experience that is to change his life for ever.

Abdulrazzak covers a lot of ground in just 100-minutes, touching on the differing attitudes towards political change in Egypt, the struggle to unite opposing forces, and how this affects ordinary citizens. In Hisham’s desire to reach a western audience by being published abroad, Abdulrazzak suggests an admiration for the freedoms of the West that sits uncomfortably with a wider distrust of outside influence. Then there are concerns for what change will bring. Hani fears that either the military will fill the vacuum left by Mubarak or that the Muslim Brotherhood will come to power: “And where will that leave us. Me a Christian Coptic and you a liberated woman, who doesn’t even wear the hijab?” he asks Layla.

The clash between the personal and political comes to a head in the horrific scenes of torture, central to the play, suggesting that the fallout from Mubarak’s brutal suppression of dissidents may remain for some time to come.

Haydon’s electrifying production is beautifully acted by the four-strong cast and Dick Straker’s video projection of the protests adds a gritty realism to the piece.

The Gate has made a name for itself as the home of international theatre so it is heartening to see Haydon building on this reputation and producing provocative, political theatre. THE PROPHET is the second play in the Gate admirable “Resist” season, which aims to explore themes of rebellion and revolution.

Originally published by Theatreworld