A BRITISH playwright hopes to explore the role of women in the Arab uprisings in her new work which poses questions of what might have been if they had become empowered.
Through her new play, The Singing Stones, director and writer Kay Adshead delves into the untold stories of women during the Arab uprisings of 2011, while examining the missed opportunity of the revolution.
The artistic director and co-founder of award winning Mama Quilla Theatre Company told Eastern Eye she wanted to place a spotlight on human rights issues.
Rebellions have been brought down in the Middle East since 2011 when women decided to speak up and take to the streets to protest against oppressive regimes. But the plight of these women remains largely forgotten.
“The Arab uprising was an opportunity for real positive change in women’s lives and in the lives of human beings, an opportunity for freedom, and what’s happened, we’ve gone back, it’s got worse and the play begs questions…it shows you a series of stories which lets you see why, what could’ve been different,” Adshead told Eastern Eye.
Despite the political awakening of citizen’s who refused to sit back and accept their fate during the movement in countries including Syria, Egypt and Libya, the Middle East still remains in a state of flux.
“Things have not moved on much. Let’s look at Afghanistan, where things have decidedly moved backwards. Let’s never forget Afghanistan [it] shows us the nightmare that can happen because in the 1970s, you had Afghani doctors, Afghani women lawyers. The Taliban comes along and they’re not allowed outside the house. And I think that is very pertinent to my play,” Adshead said.
“My company is called Mama Quilla, it’s a woman’s theatre company and our phrase is ‘women are not free anywhere in this world until all women in the world are free’.
“I think we all have to take responsibility, we can’t just sit back and say well I’m alright Jack. If there are women out there then we have to take responsibility and help if we can, otherwise I don’t think any women can sleep easy in their bed at night really,” she added.
The triad of plays places the audience in Egypt’s Tahrir Square and in Kurdistan where female fighting forces are defending the borders. It also takes place in Camberwell in south London where a misguided director has big plans to create a project about the women of the Arab Spring.
“That play comes out from the notion that in the women’s spring, in Camberwell, one of our characters says ‘we have to imagine something better’. It’s kind of the way women deal with, the way we make our world rather than the way men deal with it,” Adshead explained.
The first piece entitled Stones is inspired by a group of Syrian artists called Massasit Mati who made puppets as a vehicle to criticize Bashar al-Assad’s savage regime.
Adshead also examines the lure of the Islamic State on disillusionised young Muslims who travel to Syria to become lethal jihadis.
However the plays appear stilted and at times the scenes are longer than necessary and the set is basic. Scenes are punctuated with melancholy Indian vocals from singer and composer Najma Akhtar.
The 60-year-old who transitioned into writing and directing after beginning her acting career at the age of 18, believes little has changed in the industry since the 1970s as there are still far too few females in mainstream theatre.
In the same vein, her play debates how hard it is for women to find political empowerment.
“If that wasn’t the case then why have we got more men than women in parliament? I think that lack of empowerment is common in women everywhere in the world, Adshead said.
“First of all women were ignored [during the Arab Spring], then they were denied, then they were briefly celebrated and now they’re completely derided when women were very very influential,” The director told EE.
“In fact, Syrian female lawyers were credited as being very influential in their communications on Facebook and getting together their protest. But very soon after the revolution there were constraints put on their freedom, particularly in Tunisia in their rights to assemble.
“So it was a very very very brief flowering indeed, and in 2011 when I first researched the piece, in Tahrir Square, a lot of the women were being virginity tested and being abused and dragged away and nobody really believed anybody.
“And women were blogging about it and the blogs were there and existed but in fact, they were very quickly taken down. They don’t exist anymore. Those stories are gone now in to urban mythology or in to the mythology of revolution but there’s no doubt they happened,” she added.
The Singing Stones is on at the Arcola Theatre, east London, until February 28.