The final question put to Poppy Burton-Morgan, Raja Shehadeh and Tania El Khoury ahead of their production of Arab Nights at Soho Theatre.
Can you tell us something about the place of dictators and control in these short performances?
Raja: Oppression works primarily by convincing the oppressed that their miserable life is the only possible one. That they are doomed to live in this way. The ability to poke fun at dictators and oppressors is the first stage in the long road towards overcoming their control over the lives of those they dominate i.e. laughter is the best medicine.
After laughter comes the important stage of placing the oppression and the oppressors in context. In the case of my piece about the wall and the checkpoints I wanted an audience to see the newly created Israeli reality as absurd and dangerous not as something inevitable and necessary for Israel’s security, which is how the state of Israel tries to present it to the world. I wanted to show how those Israeli soldiers who guard these stations, the gates to the formidable wall, are themselves victims of the lies their leaders are perpetuating.
Tania: My piece is about a dictator’s wife busy shopping for shoes while the people are revolting in the streets. The idea came to me after I saw the pair of shoes that Asma El Assad purchased online from Louboutin during the first few months of the Syrian uprising. More on this can be found on this blog post.
Poppy: At the outset of the play the performers create a convention whereby King Shahrayar is ‘played’ by the audience – as the King they have the choice after each tale to hear another or execute Shahrazad. If they choose to remain silent they acquiesce in her death and I hope this theme of choice, and the implications of choosing to remain silent, will strike a chord with an audience. We have huge freedoms in Britain – and I’m interested in provoking an audience to exercise those freedoms, to choose to speak up and speak out. Watching in silence as atrocities are committed makes the spectator in some way complicit in the act – at an individual level and at the level of government to government, and country to country. I’d like to provoke those people who have a voice into really using it.
Arab Nights runs at Soho Theatre from 21st November until 1st December (then touring)