Review by Rosie Holmes
I’ll be honest, I know embarrassingly little about the events of what is popularly known as the Arab Spring. Taking place in 2011, it is the term given to a number of pro-democracy uprisings in Northern Africa and the Middle East and the events of which shape this show. In You Bury Me, the focus is on Cairo, a city full of layers and home to six young people all grappling with their own fears and feelings as well as the awkwardness of first love as the smoke of revolution still hangs in the air.
Winner of the Women’s prize for playwriting, You Bury Me introduces us to the city of Cairo - “the swollen, sick liver” of Egypt in 2015, 4 years after the uprisings under the leadership of a military regime more oppressive than they had experienced before. The story follows 6 young people whose lives intertwine and the impact the regime is having on them. We meet Maya, a rebellious teenager and her best friend Lina who is hiding her true feelings. Alongside them we are introduced to Tamir and Alia, a young couple in love, but forced to hide it due to their religious differences. As well as Osman, a journalist who refuses to give up hope for a better Cairo and his gay best friend who is in danger under the regime simply for his sexuality.
What was most striking is the way the descriptions above feels like it should be referencing a story from hundreds of years ago. Instead, however, is a story that is set just a few years ago. The fact the cast wear outfits I myself would wear and reference pop culture that I and many others love makes it all the more shocking and emotive to see young people with similar hopes, dreams and even pastimes living such different and dangerous lives. It is therefore a very clever part of the writing to include references to such pop culture as it makes the characters directly comparable to our own and as a result more shocking to see how their lives are affected by military regime. Similarly, for the most part we see their every day lives; a movie night at home, driving to a party, ordinary actions during extraordinary times.
Written by ‘Ahlam’ a pseudonym under which the creator of this piece writes in order to remain anonymous uses the cast as their spokespeople. The piece is a love letter to Cairo and is clearly coming from a personal place, which makes the piece even more evocative. In fact, the writing is most certainly one of the biggest strengths of the play. There is a fear with a one act play of 1 hour 40 minutes that time may begin to drag, but any such fear was quickly allayed by the dynamic, fast paced and witty writing that meant I was utterly absorbed moments in to the show.
The acting performances by the six strong cast, were brilliant, full of exuberance and an unfaltering energy. At times, some verged on caricature like and slightly over the top, however for the most part all performances were wonderful. Hanna Khogali and Moe Bar-El play lovers Alia and Tamer, a relationship forbidden due to their differing religions. Both brought an endearing innocence to their roles that makes you love them even when their actions are frustrating. Both are able to show off their comedic talents with probably the funniest scenes of the show, an awkward first sexual encounter that will make you simultaneously squirm and giggle in your seat.
Rebellious teenager Maya is played by Yasemin Özdemir, giving a vivacious portrayal of a teenage girl navigating her way in the world. Alongside her is best friend Lina, played by Eleanor Nawal who perfectly encapsulates the awkwardness of a teenage girl. Activist and journalist, Osman, is played by Tarrick Benham, whilst his best friend Rafik is played by Nezar Alderazi who between them deliver some of the most powerful scenes in the play in a highly charged argument which really shows just how lives can be torn apart by political instability.
Simple set design by Sara Perks is made up of a number of moving parts- wooden cubes, stairs and benches, that are handled well by the cast, due to Katie Posner’s dynamic direction. Above the action hang 2 large stone cubes painted with symbols of Cairo, to remind us of the oppression these young people are experiencing. For me one weakness of the show was some of the intermittent choreographed pieces led by the whole cast which felt a little bit jarring against the vulnerability and rawness of the stories being told, however it was still interesting to have some movement in a very wordy play.
Some shows I might have a little discussion about afterwards and never discuss it again. However, You Bury Me is a show I want to keep discussing and tell everyone about – that is the real power of this show, and will lead me to research more into the events that shaped this piece which in itself is a testament to the show.
You Bury Me is a piece that undoubtedly has extremely dark undertones, looking at those living in a city that to truly be yourself means you could be killed or become one of the missing. Ahlam creates a story that is not only sad but is permeated with humour and lightness, exploring a Cairo that is ‘all layers.’ This is a show that insists on hope and love and is a piece I would encourage as many people as possible to see.
You Bury Me plays at Orange Tree Theatre until the 22nd April 2023, tickets can be purchased from-YOU BURY ME | What's On | Orange Tree Theatre
Photos by Pamela Raith