Written by Ahlam
Directed by Katie Posner
There’s something which can escape even the tightest of militaristic strangleholds: words.
A series of anti-government and establishment, armed rebellions and uprisings occurred across much of the Arab world in late 2010 – stretching into the following year and beyond. Its consequences, and the lives lost, would come to be known as the Arab Spring. The impact of which still ripples over a decade later.
The spirit of revolution arises from the ashes persists, despite the crushing might of the new military dictatorship. And this is where the vital importance of broadening our scope to new stories from new writers emerges, as Ahlam’s You Bury Me not only widens the spectrum of understanding for audiences to the impact of the Arab Spring but this winner of The Women’s Prize for Playwriting 2020 draws sense of perspective into Edinburgh, the pounding rush of renewed enthusiasm.
First drafted in 2015, in the same setting as the finalised production, You Bury Me may position itself within a specific location, but this politically charged debut from Ahlam about generation emergence, spans beyond the boundaries of the eminent city of Cairo. Its coming-of-age tales of six Egyptian youths, interlinked, speak to anyone who has once been young and carefree, questioned their identity and felt a sinister shiver of anxiety in expressing who they are. In Katie Posner’s production, despite the elements of You Bury Me demonstrating what was happening across Cairo and Egypt, Ahlam’s writing is more a catharsis, a longing sense in capturing youth – youth eternal across the globe.
Alia (Hanna Khogali) and Tamer (Moe Bar-El) portray young lovers, the tale as old as time, clumsily fumbling across the adolescence of figuring out one another’s bodies (indeed their own) and sex in secrecy, fearful of the constant threat of discovery. More of a concern than simple embarrassment, as Tamer is Christian, and she is Muslim. To make matters worse, Alia’s father is one of these high-ranking police officers. Bar-El’s bounding humorous performance bubbles with a youthful passion and determination – but belays both a sensitive and aggressively passionate and motivated young man determined to leave the city, the country in which he feels the oppression rising. It offsets Khogali’s gorgeous performance as the analytical and cautious Alia – the pair making an authentic couple, the final piece of narrative leaving audiences deeply hopeful of their raft crossing into Europe.
The preservation of ‘ruined’ virginity, gender politics, cross-religious romances, and militaristic police all bring this staggeringly recognisable connection of youthful flirtation to an entirely different light for audiences. In these ripples of the familiar, in an unfamiliar setting, they tie so discreetly with the audience in the Lyceum. So too, is the risk of everything, your career, your safety, your life, for Grindr – or rather, to be who you are. Zigzagging, leaping, and slightly goofy, Nezar Alderazi’s Rafiq stays with the powerhouse performance of this show, Tarrick Benham’s Osman. This emotionally strained activist fights for his city, his beliefs, and for a life better for his little sister Maya and his friend Rafiq, fearful of his use of the state-survived app.
Living their life to the fullest, despite it all, Maya (Yasemin Özdemir) shares not her older brother’s fears of the encroaching shadows – choosing to pursue a life lived. It extends to her more earnest and trepid friend Lina, played by Eleanor Nawal. A young woman still coming to terms with herself, and specifically her sexuality, their friendship with Maya blossoming into something more – but despite the audience’s smiles and rallying for the pair’s relationship, we know this remains dangerous right up until the final blackout. Revelling in it all: the sex and smoking, the thrill and anxieties of bodily autonomy and sexuality. The entire cast, but especially Özdemir captures that every life on stage, is a life found in every city.
You Bury Me is a profoundly personal production, the writing coming from a place of loss, of trauma, and Posner’s staging responds accordingly. Designed by Sara Perks, the emptiness graces the language and performance freedom to conjure Cairo, to spark even the dry heat of the city and the ambience of it’s night. A largely blank canvas, with steel-framed boxes and ladders used to divide space and offer a dimension of weight – the lingering stone blocks offer solour and reflection of Aideen Malone’s lighting. Between these, elements of Annie-Lunnette Deakin-Foster choreographed movement direction surround the blocks and beams, seemlessly offering transition, but occasionally come over as a touch expansive – leading to a mild stagnation of pacing in the production’s later moments, where the narration and movements build into an expressive pulse which leads to the occasional false-finale.
Ahlam wanted to write about love, kissing and weed, about laughter and life – but could not without first writing about this, the truth. We need new writers, new words and stories (familiar or otherwise) to broaden the reach and impact of our craft and to continue punching holes through the raised boundaries. Ahlam’s You Bury Me, through a love letter of revolution and Cairo, speaks to the entire world.
Speaks to the World
You Bury Me runs at The Lyceum Theatre until March 18th. Tuesday – Saturday at 19.30pm. Wednesday and Saturday matinees at 14.30pm.
Running Time – One hour and Forty minutes without interval. Suitable for ages 14+
Tickets begin from £17.50 – £39 for Evenings. £15.00 – £31.00 for matinees. Concessions are available, and tickets may be obtained here.