As Egypt stands at a democratic crossroads after the appointment of its first democratically elected president, a play has opened that looks at the first rumblings of that revolt. Robert Cumber reviews The Prophet.
Hassan Abdulrazzak’s look at last year’s Egyptian uprising is timely – opening last week as the country’s first free elections closed amid great uncertainty.
The Prophet focuses on a couple whose relationship is going through a rocky patch and who are caught up in the uprising in very different ways.
The action takes place over the course of a single day, Friday, January 28, 2011, with revolution in the air as thousands of protesters gather in Tahrir Square.
Layla (Sasha Behar) is determined to join the protesters but her husband Hisham insists on staying at home working on his difficult second novel.
Despite writing an allegorical account of an imagined revolution – his own small act of rebellion against president Hosni Mubarak – he refuses to believe anything will come of the genuine protests on his doorstep.
Layla, a Vodafone engineer, is forced to compromise her principles when Mubarak’s heavies order the company to shut down the mobile network. Hisham (Nitzan Sharron), meanwhile, must confront his past, and a flirtatious new agent, if he is to conquer a bad case of writer’s block.
The action takes place against a backdrop of video clips from the protests but it is Hisham and Layla’s everyday concerns – from personal grooming to office affairs – which remain forefront.
For a western audience mostly used to seeing footage only of the street protests, this is a fascinating glimpse of how the uprising affected people’s personal lives.
As we watch ordinary citizens facing agonising decisions about their role in the revolution, it is hard not to imagine how we would react in the same situation.
Abdulrazzak also offers an interesting, and at times comic, outsider’s perception of freedom in the western world. For Layla’s horny boss Hani, determined to have his wicked way with her, ‘liberal’ London is one big orgy.
“It’s understood that acting on the sexual impulse is acceptable. That’s how they see it in the west,” he tells her.
What begins as a relationship drama soon develops into a full-blown thriller.
Silas Carson is excellent as Layla’s subservient boss who is the dark face of Mubarak’s regime, switching effortlessly between comedy and menace. But there’s a lack of chemistry between the central couple and Hisham’s seductive literary agent never quite convinces as a character.
But the Prophet is an entertaining and enlightening exploration of the roots of the Egyptian uprising, given added poignancy now that the outcome of the election signals that change must go on.
The Prophet, directed by Christopher Haydon, is at The Gate Theatre, Pembridge Road, Notting Hill Gate until July 21.