We didn’t realise how British our play is. Rehearsing in our mosquito-bloodied hotel room the day before the show, we’re struck that line after line would be impossible to understand unless you’re personally familiar with the land of Tesco, Glastonbury and the BNP (the three pillars of Britishness). We’re also getting nervous about its very un-Islamic content. Egypt is a country built over a deep vein of religion; women wear hijab, affection isn’t public and people most definitely do not leap about in the nude, bashing out rhythms on an upturned bin (scene 1, act 1 of the play). Even a topless man is a very shocking sight here, we are told.
What to do? I mean, part of the point of the nudity is its subversiveness. We don’t want to undermine the power of the play or its statements, and surely it would be daft to sing Get Naked with all my clothes on. On the other hand, we don’t want to alienate the entire audience in the first 5 minutes of the show. In the end, I bow to cultural sensitivity and decide to wear shorts and a T-shirt.
The next concern is the play’s politics. In a country where people are imprisoned for mocking the president and press freedom is haphazard at best, we wonder if people will even dare to attend a show with the word Rebel in the title, let alone one which portrays a dystopian vision of a prison-state with no press freedom and discusses the best way to topple it. It seems the El Sawy Culturewheel (the venue we’re booked to perform in) may have had the same concern. The posters are mis-spelled and misinforming:
THE REBELL CELL
BRITISH HIPHOP BAND.
We laugh at our predicament, and when the night comes (having spent a day doing the set-up and dress rehearsal with sound and light guys who speak almost no English- a miracle of gesture on both sides) we censor the swearwords and keep our T-shirts on, but do the politics loud and clear.
We’re surprised by the response: although it’s a small audience, they’re responsive and connect straight away with what we’re saying. In the show’s freestyle section (we ask for 4 ways the audience wants to change the world and build their ideas into an improvised song), the offerings come fast and passionate:
“We want to be able to vote on the decisions that affect us”
“Change the government”
“Create a shadow government which can supplant the existing one”
It seems Egyptians are not afraid. They’re full of fire and full of hope. We feel privileged to bear witness to it.
The next day we hire a van to visit the Pyramids, and Baba gets hustled by a camel man.