The Arab Spring uprisings that swept across the Middle East in 2011 are the subject of a new trilogy of plays by Professor Dan Rebellato from Royal Holloway.
Professor Rebellato, Head of the Department of Drama and Theatre and an established playwright, was so moved by the pro-democracy rebellions, he was inspired to use the power of storytelling and comedy to explore how westerners, such as himself, interpreted the events.
The result is Negative Signs of Progress, a trilogy of plays which were first broadcast on BBC Radio 4 during February. The impressive cast included, Tony Gardner (Fresh Meat, The Thick of It), Khalid Abdalla (The Kite Runner, United 93) and Mido Hamada (Homeland, 24).
The tone of each play is very different with the second, entitled There, using comedy to scrutinise our assumptions about the revolutions.
“I was very caught up in the excitement as the extraordinary wave of protests spread across the Middle East,” said Professor Rebellato. “But as I watched the secular, non-violent, social media-driven revolution we were being shown, I started to wonder whether the west is trapped either in demonising the Arab world or just projecting idealized images of itself.”
In There, the action is set in Europe where two inexperienced NGO workers are forced at short notice to prepare for a hostage negotiation, with their attempts at role-play revealing all of their naivety, clichéd attitudes and vanity.
Professor Rebellato said: “I was conscious when writing There that it’s probably on the edge of public taste to write a comedy about hostage negotiation, but laughter is an important dramatic tool which has the power to challenge our own limits and assumptions.”
The three plays, which are set in the developed and developing worlds against the background of the Arab Spring, draw on Professor Rebellato’s academic research on globalisation at Royal Holloway.
The first play, Here, is a psychological thriller set in Britain, where a husband is visited by a police officer who asks him about his wife. Over the course of the interview, the man calls into question everything he thought he knew about the woman he loves.
Somewhere is the last in the trilogy. Set in the Arab world, a frightened western hostage finds herself an unwilling guest in a beautiful library. The play asks how far the west and the east can understand each other, and explores how easily the quest for democracy can become brutal.