“The Emigrants”, a play based on a 1974 text by Polish writer Slavomir Mrozek, was directed by the great Palestinian artist Naeem Nasr, who worked on the stage direction, and prepared the text very acutely and solidly. He presented us with a hearty meal, full of the pain and the fear of the experience of migration and alienation; and the curse of longing in alienation, but for whom? For wife, son, mother, father, and perhaps even the neighbour whose high-point in life was simply to wish us good morning for free every day!
We, the audience, who sat for an hour or so in the Red Crescent Theatre in Gaza City, have seen and shared the bitterness of being ‘emigrants’ in a strange land that is not our own country, and we may now, after seeing this presentation, be seeking answers to questions about our own fate; and we may or may not come to recognise what the regimes of oppression have done to us in our Arab countries.
Neither the political system nor the ruler of a country is necessarily the source of this oppression but it is the nature of things in our Arab geography, and perhaps elsewhere in the world. Moreover there is the oppression of ordinary people by intellectuals, the oppression of the weak by the strong, of the poor by the rich; there are so many diverse forms of it and the result is the same everywhere : the oppression of the human being.
‘The Emigrants’ was produced by Theatre for Everybody with the support of Az Theatre in the UK, and of the friend of the group and a long-time supporter of Palestine, artist and playwright, Jonathan Chadwick. It was directed by Naem Naser, and performed by the artists, Hossam Al-Madhoun, and Jamal Al Rozzi.
The artist Rami Al-Salmi was responsible for lighting and the technical aspects of the production, the choreography/ movement was by Wahid Abu Shahma, and the set design by Ismail Dahlan.
In the play we see two characters, who differ from each other in terms of their culture and their work, but who meet in their state of loss. They live in one room like a cellar, a place that is not clearly defined except for the sewer pipes that represent the ceiling of this room, some wooden chairs and simple kitchenware and a wooden table in the middle of the stage. All the indications of poverty and the austerity of life are evident throughout the show, which was not, however, without laughs and some dances of a light rhythm.
The two men begin to talk about New Year’s Eve in this Western European country and imagine those who live upstairs who on this night, are dancing, drinking wine, comfortable and happy. They begin to search their inner feelings, with glasses of wine and contemplating the ruins in which they live.
The writer lived through the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, and he based his play on the reality of his country. “Many writers have translated this play into films and adapted its events to their own country, but we decided not to adapt to the situation specifically in our country because this situation exists in the whole world today,” director Naeem Nasr told the Al-Hadaf News Bureau, which attended the show.
Nasr continues: “The play summarises what alienation does to the migrant. We have first a character, an intellectual who emigrated from his country when he was forced to flee because he was wanted by the regime, but the second character is a simple, poor illiterate man, who went abroad to work so he could build his dream home when he returns to his country.”
On the conflict in the text, Nasr pointed out that “In this great difference between the two sides, or difference in the composition of the two characters (‘intellectual’ / ‘simple’), we see the intellectual blame the poor man for his own failure, in order to justify himself.
Hossam al-Madhoun, who acted the man from the poorer class, performed exceptionally well during the show. As he tries to understand the incantations and claims of his companion in exile who considers himself one of the sons of the upper-class, the aim and target of the play of the play emerges. “The text stems from circumstances in which the freedom of expression was extremely limited. It was written by a man who lived through a dictatorial regime, and through the experience of migration when he left his country to go to Mexico and then settled in France. In most of his writings, he expresses the oppression of ordinary people by the authorities: all kinds of authorities – political, financial, intellectual and so on… and yet migration is not the best solution. We must look for other solutions through revolutions and challenges, to create a different economic reality, to change the status quo, and not to look for simple solutions like escaping into migration when we meet our first challenge.” he said.
“Migration is a deadly thing; you are in exile, a strange human being who has no chance and is treated as a second or third-class citizen.” he said. “Unfortunately, today for example, about 30,000 young people from Gaza have migrated to Belgium and are now in the streets and shelters, and the majority of them still do not know what their fate is, but it is clear and certain that they will lose years of their lives just waiting and doing nothing.”
Presenting this play was a cry and a call for young people to think twice before migrating, because “we are able to create a new reality in Gaza, which contains us and embraces us, but alienation and migration will not bring us magic solutions,” he said, “We’re hoping that the show will not be left without continuing support and that institutions will feel socially responsible and back us to carry out a tour of performances of this important play.”
A torrent of tears at the end of the theatrical show; the poor migrant forgets everything and, perhaps, remembering only his children and the details of his simple home in his homeland, he begins to cry and cry as his companion speaks about freedom, justice and decent living. The curtain was lowered and other chapters of suffering were not seen.
Quotes from audiences
Dr. Haidar Eid (prof of philosophy at Al-Azhar University)
I received an invitation from the creative artist Hossam Almadhoun to attend the beautiful play “The Emigrants” by the Polish writer Slavomir Mrozek that deals with the issue of migration and the text has been adapted to suit the Arab/Palestinian context. The acting by Hossam Al-Madhoun and Jamal Al Rozzi was very impressive. As well as saluting them, I commend the stage direction by Naeem Nasr.
Jonathan Daich (writer)
This is live theatre direct from Gaza. Even if you don’t understand Arabic, you can see the power and the professionalism of Palestinian theatre. Bravo! And thanks to Hossam Al-Madhoun and Theatre for Everybody.
Ali Abu Yaseen: actor
Very powerful performance, different show, I enjoyed every minute of it.
Ehab Abu Hseen (programme director)
I was really surprised. I did not know we have this quality of art in Gaza. It was a very joyful 45 minutes, the play addressed a very critical subject, migration and freedom.
Sami Abu Sultan
Astonishing work, Jamal and Hossam! As usual, you are brilliant.