Photo – Laurie Bost
In December 2010, a series of people's uprisings began against the government of Tunisia and spread across the Middle East. The uprisings took the form of protests, rallies and posts on social media. Eventually this spread to Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Libya, and Syria in what became known as the Arab Spring. To an outside observer, it would appear that this was a time characterised by great purpose, as the people of the Middle East united in order to overthrow their dictatorial governments.
In The Eruptive Mode, looks at these events on a personal level and presents a world of disorganisation and chaos. The piece consists of six monologues with context provided by voiceovers of news reports in between. It's like we are zooming in on the lives of people across the Middle East using Google Earth.
A western Journalist lies dying. She is without her trusty Bic Biro and her right hand is missing. Her internal organs are wreaking havoc, like a population in revolt. This monologue is based on the death of Sunday times Journalist Marie Colvin who was killed covering the siege of Homs, Syria in 2012. Meanwhile a desperate man tries to persuade his own son to kill his own daughter. The local troops will soon be arriving to destroy his entire family if the deed is not done.
A presentation reassuring investors about the stability of the oil market is a standout in both its style and quality. It is piece filled with dark satiric observations and you take a while to realise just how funny and clever it is, as it is played wonderfully deadpan by Kym Vercoe. The presenter is representing the 153rd heir to the leader. She talks of the first five heirs being the first line of contenders, then there is a second line and so own. A clever comment about the tough job that the Arab Spring revolutions have taken on in removing the ruling families from power.
Writer and director Sulayman Al Bassam has spent most of the last ten years working on an Arab Shakespearian trilogy, where Shakespeare's plays are translated into Arabic and placed in a political context relevant to the Middle East. Most recently, he wrote Speaker's Progress (based on Twelfth Night) which was a comment on the decades of hopelessness and political inertia that lead to the Arab Spring uprising. In the post show discussion, he revealed that he was originally asked to bring one of the Arab Shakespeare pieces to the Sydney Festival, but there were complications with some of the actors leaving and returning to their homeland. Al Bassam took the opportunity instead to premiere In The Eruptive Mode in Sydney.
This was only the second showing of the work in front of an audience and there were a few moments where the actors were hard to hear. This was due to them speaking too fast or being drowned out by the sound effects. Hopefully these technical issues can be quickly ironed out.
In The Eruptive Mode, like the uprisings in the Middle East, is a work in progress. A production of raw urgency. Its thrilling to see such a fresh production at the Sydney Festival. Perhaps it is too early to pass final judgement on the piece, just as it is too soon to draw conclusions about the effects of the Arab Spring on the Middle East.
2013 Sydney Festival presents
In the Eruptive Mode
Voices from a hijacked Spring
by Sulayman Al-Bassam
Directed by Sulayman Al-Bassam
Venue: York Theatre, Seymour Centre Cnr City Road and Cleveland Street Chippendale
Dates: January 8 – 11, 2013
Bookings: Sydney Festival 1300 668 812 | Seymour Centre 02 9351 7940 | Ticketmaster 1300 723 038