[The following contains spoilers.]
This afternoon finds me once again in one of the wonderfully intimate studios at C Nova. The Namat Theatre Troupe have come all the way from war-torn Cairo to perform their new show “Human and Other Things,” and there are only four people in the audience. I don’t know where to look.
The Troupe have all the hallmarks of being set up by the CIA. Their Facebook page boasts that their tutors “are from USA” and that they teach the “Hollywood “true acting” method.” They warn that prospective applicants “shouldn’t be wearing “Hejab.”” “Human and Other Things” seems to reflect the influence of Hollywood film noir far more than it does Egypt’s present battle for democracy. Of course a C Nova audience will want to hear more about defiant freedom fighters than Hollywood, and the play tenuously accommodates this through a storyline about a pretty girl who is on the run.
The Troupe claim that their play is “inspired by the short stories” of the prolific Egyptian writer Naguib Mahfouz. “Human and Other Things” could be actually set in Manhattan since it contains no explicit references to Egypt whatsoever. With dusty old telephones for props, we are emphatically in the film noir era.
The first figure on stage (Mohamed Ashraf) must be an Egyptian democrat because he is in a wheelchair. The pretty convict dashes in, but a mixture of stilted dialogue and rushed acting immediately renders this scene oddly flat. Although the dialogue will do nothing to explain who this girl is or why she is being hunted by the authorities, the play picks up when there is less of it. Once shorn of the script, there are some strikingly directed scenes in which the characters wrestle amorously and gulp down cognac. The hero’s spiteful old flame appears and she flounces glamorously around the stage, flaring her nostrils at the audience.
At the play’s emotional climax, the paralysed hero is persuaded to step out of his wheelchair, rather like somebody being “healed” by evangelical Christianity in the Deep South. The acting and direction clothe this scene in sufficient uneasiness to avoid absurdity, but it is ultimately unsatisfying. A long-paralysed man would not have enough muscle in his legs to simply start walking again, and so this scene must be purely symbolic. Yet there is no clarity or urgency behind the symbolism.
“Human and Other Things” is at times a bit corny and am-dram, but it is nonetheless entertaining. It does not deserve an audience of millions, but it could do with more than four.
[The names of the full cast and writer were unavailable at the time of posting. Can anybody help me out in the comments below?]