If you have seen the first of award-winning Hassan Abdulrazzak’s plays, Baghdad Wedding, shown to much critical acclaim at the Soho Theatre in 2007, then you would know not to expect a gentle tale from the Iraqi playwright. The Prophet is Abdulrazzak’s long-awaited second theatrical offering and again, he pulls no punches in this wildly thrilling play. Abdulrazzak focuses on what he calls ‘authentic Arabs’, not the common portrayal often seen in the western media.
The play deals with the lives of a middle-class married couple, Hisham (Nitzan Sharron) and Layla (Sasha Behar). Hisham is a former journalist and frustrated novelist with writer’s block, unable to neither continue his work nor satisfy his neglected wife’s desires.
While Layla goes to protest with the mass crowds demonstrating on Cairo’s streets, Hisham goes to an up-market hotel to meet a high-powered, flirtatious literary agent, Suzanne, played by the brilliant Melanie Jessop, whom he thinks can help him gain international recognition for his work. The two main characters trajectories take us on a challenging ride through the play in which long-hidden secrets emerge and the conscience plays a major, sometimes terrifying part.
Set against the backdrop of the changes that have happened in the Middle East, the play doesn’t sensationalise. Instead, it explores the humanity in ordinary and opens up their everyday thoughts and feelings, which sometimes have nothing to do with the momentous world-event happening on their doorsteps, in a way only Abdulrazzak dares to do.
The Prophet broaches familiar topics such as the very real issue that many are confronted with in varying proportions, between idealism and practicality, heroism and cowardice, morality and immorality, put succinctly by Layla in a moment of self-reflection, ‘You have a certain image of yourself, the things you wouldn’t do. But then life puts that image to the test and you find yourself wanting.’ It also broaches on what the outcome could be, of social unrest in Egypt.
The play is a dynamic, thought-provoking roller-coaster, at turns dark, funny and horrifying, causing the audience to turn their heads in horror during the torture scenes, or laugh at the witty, self-aware one-liners and theatrical tricks running throughout the play’s snappy 100 minutes. Somehow, Abdulrazzak manages to be ethical and irreverent at the same time, joking without undermining the significance of the events it reveals.
*The Prophet is at The Gate Theatre until 21st July
Photographer: Simon Kane