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‘They said it’s here’: Mime performance returns with a twist

Starting tonight, seven members of the Cairo Acting School will be performing their mime play “They said it’s here” at downtown’s Rawabet theater.

First shown in May, “They said it’s here” was a great success with the audience. Its young actors are bringing the show back having developed it further during a four-day workshop held last week. The workshop's purpose was to develop the storyline, rather than learn new techniques.

“You want to be tolerant, but you can't: this was the basic idea we started with in developing the play,” says Dutch theater director Guido Kleene.

The play is centered around a number of situations that might cause social tension, such as dealing with personal space and people with different beliefs. In many cases the cast employs irony, exaggeration and absurdity to make a point.

One scene from the rehearsal showed a man sitting next to a couple in a movie theater. As he got more comfortable, he began hugging the other man’s girlfriend.

“The play is not meant to address a particular incident, but rather a theme; it’s about what people think and worry about,” says Kleene. “It deals with differences in beliefs, personal relationships and behaviors that you either want to tolerate or don't. Most people, especially the educated, want to be tolerant – they think of themselves as tolerant, but they aren’t.”

Mime focuses on physical performance and body movement; there is no spoken dialogue. Therefore actors develop scenes visually and act how they feel. It is associated with theatrical drama.

“The ideas are in the movement of the body, which makes them crystal clear,” says Kleene.

“Body movement is a universal language like music that everyone can feel and relate to, yet in different ways,” says Ibrahim Salah, an actor participating in the show. “And that is the beauty of it.”

Mime theatre is not common in Egypt. Indeed, “They said it’s here” is the first Egyptian mime performance in 25 years, since the works of theater director Mansour Mohammed, says theater director and actor Hany al-Metenawy. “This is a step toward reviving the art.”

So far, the audience loves it.

“During our May performance, the audience said that they had never seen Egyptian actors express themselves with such physical sensitivity, they thought that it wasn’t possible to do so in Egypt – a comment that I found strange because the actors are really good,” says Kleene.

“They said it’s here” is a product of the Cairo Acting School, which was launched in 2008. Founded by Metenawy, and funded by the Dutch Cultural Institute, the Hanager theater, the Townhouse gallery, Tanboura, and Emad al-Din Studio, the school has offered courses in classic, modern and improvisational mime.

The shows provide great inspiration to the actors.

“The theme of tolerance inspired me on many levels. It’s an important issue that has to be discussed especially now with the way events are unfolding in Egypt. Conflicts and differences are rising; tolerance is becoming more essential,” says actor Amr Abed.

“They said it’s here” will show on Saturday and Sunday (17-18 September) at the Rawabet theatre. The show starts at 8:30 pm.

It includes performances by Hany al-Metenawy, Ibrahim Salah, Amr Abed, Mai Salem, Karim Assem, Salam Yousri and Mustafa al-Menoufy.

Photographs by Dave Mental

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