Egyptian plays unearthes roots of radicalisation

“Defect” is a captivating look at an Egyptian society suffering cracks and defects at all levels.
Sunday 11/11/2018
scene from the Egyptian play “Khalal.”  (Al Arab)
Spirited performance. A scene from the Egyptian play “Khalal.” (Al Arab)

The play “Defect” (“Khalal”) delves into the crises gripping Egyptian society, especially the spread of violence and terrorism caused by faulty family upbringing. The play presents a youthful vision of theatre and aesthetics, bolstered with a social awareness and an ability to tackle reality.

“Defect” investigates layers of the Egyptian social fabric, dissecting the processes through which violence and terrorism germinate, as well as other obstacles hindering reform and development and threatening future generations. The play is addressed primarily to a youthful audience and is put together and performed by young artists.

Written by Mahmoud Hamdi and directed by Mohammed al-Dessouki, “Defect’s” bet on youthfulness comes through an energetic and spirited artistic performance. With an outpouring of explosive energy from new and promising generations, all “defects” can be removed from reality and danger averted.

The artists behind “Defect” say theatre is no longer a formal and frozen artform presented to a passive audience. Modern theatre is the amalgamation of all modern artforms and a space for dialectic and interactive drama that engages a cultured, visionary and insightful audience that cannot be moved without sophisticated aesthetic techniques.

The play’s title serves as an introduction for its main premise. Indeed, defects dominate the reality boldly depicted in the play.

The central issue is the unprecedented spread of violence and terrorism. There are many causes behind the phenomenon but “Defect” puts forward teaching children wrong values in their family circles in the first place. This education is a ticking time bomb that threatens young people. The drama’s events crescendo to convey one simple reality: “Violence and terrorism are first born in our homes.”

The show uses deconstruction and reconstruction and fast-flowing disconnected scenes to embody the successive stages of loss in people’s lives, starting from childhood, adolescence and youth, then going through marriage, childbearing and child-rearing so that, in the end, children grow up reflecting their parents’ behaviour.

The play focuses also on the harsh upbringing reserved for girls, feeding them erroneous and extremist religious information and on their parents’ excessive phobia of having them go astray, a phobia that leads parents to assume their daughters are constantly lying and hiding relations with the opposite sex. All those factors result in abnormally disfigured female personalities.

The play demonstrates that the seeds of violence and terror are sown early due to parents’ unforgiving treatment of their children. Parents often use intimidation, fear and extreme forms of physical punishment to keep children in check. Even religion is transmitted to young minds through horrific tales of hellfire and punishment in the afterlife. As an alternative, the play promotes having parents treat their children as friends from a young age.

In addition to this basic thread running through the script, the play sheds light on societal issues and problems through anecdotes, such as the isolated life that youth are living and their attachment to virtual realities through their obsession with communication technologies and the internet.

Among the other problems the play attempts to illustrate through dramatic, comedic, lighthearted or, at times, musical interludes, are drug addiction, spinsterhood, nervousness for those about to get married, the spread of corruption and nepotism, emigration and illegal immigration by the desperate and the disillusioned.

“Defect” suggests that youthful energy is an efficient fuel that can propel life forward. Such a vision is solidified through the adoption of youthful theatre techniques and aesthetics as an end in itself. The theatrical wherewithal is the backbone underlying the play: that young people are a latent treasure with revolutionary potential.

The play contains scenes in which the kinetic action culminated with the script’s rising action, including one depicting gender wars with men and women playing tug of war and another depicting illegal migrants crammed on a boat being rocked by the waves and sinking. In the background, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 — the “Symphony of Destiny” — fills the air and highlights an atmosphere of bated breath as lights fade and darkness takes over.

“Defect” is a captivating look at an Egyptian society suffering cracks and defects at all levels in addition to its being a dazzling and suspenseful aesthetic vision flowing with new artistic blood.