CAIRO—“Minus One”, a play produced by students of Egypt’s Higher Institute of Dramatic Arts, recently won an extended run at a prestigious professional theatre here.
The show had been planned to run only between November 14 and 19 at El-Hanager Arts Centre’s theatre, within the Cairo Opera House complex. But the play proved so popular that Shady Sorour, the arts centre’s director general, extended its run until November 23.
The play deals with the physical struggles of a child with speech and physical disabilities and the emotional struggles of his parents. At the age of 5, the child manages to chant a single sentence, “Where will we go, Daddy?”
To deal with their son’s situation, the parents resort to medicine, special education, and quackery.
Muhammad Adel wrote “Minus One” and Abdullah Saber directed it. The play was acted by Ahmed Abbas, Yara El-Meligy, Mustafa Rushdy, Sally Saeed, Abdul-Rahman Mohsen, and Mustafa Abdul-Hadi.
“I directed the show to put the following question to the audience: What if this was the situation in your home? How would you deal with it and keep your humanity?”Abdullah Saber
The show’s director
From the Institute to a Prestigious Theatre
Abeer Fawzy, a professor of acting at the Higher Institute of Dramatic Arts, had the idea of asking if his students could perform on a professional stage. He took his request to Khaled Galal, head of the Ministry of Culture’s Cultural Production Affairs Sector, which resulted in the performance at El-Hanager Arts Centre.
“I wanted to support my students and give them a chance to present the show to a wider audience and gain experience,” Fawzy told Al-Fanar Media.
The show has won more than 25 awards, most notably the 2020 Arab Zaki Talimat Festival organized by Egypt’s Academy of Arts and Oman’s Sohar University Theatre Festival award in 2021. Ahmed Abbas, the show’s protagonist, was also nominated for the Best Actor Award at the Issil Festival in Morocco.
“The show was chosen from 76 student projects at the institute, and implemented with a limited budget of about 5,000 Egyptian pounds ($320),” Fawzy said.
He added that the play had received a warm reception every time it had been staged, which gave the students belief in their talent.
‘How Would You Deal with It?’
The play portrays the psychological conflict confronting the child’s father (played by Mustafa Rushdy) and mother (Sally Saeed). The show ends with the mother dying of grief after the father decides to put the boy in a care home. However the father changes his mind and begins to react to the child’s feelings rather than his physical disability.
Abdullah Saber, the show’s director, told Al-Fanar Media that his admiration for the thinking behind the play made him want to direct it. “In daily life, I have seen many cases of children with disabilities being bullied,” he said. “I directed the show to put the following question to the audience: What if this was the situation in your home? How would you deal with it and keep your humanity?”
Saber began working on the dialogue two years ago, but the play could not be staged because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The delay helped him to examine the parents’ struggle more deeply. He had the idea of including the narrator, played by Yara El-Meligy, and the spirit of the child, played by Ahmed Abbas. Abbas’s performance particularly resonates with the audience because he is able to adapt his body to the role.
The critic Yousry Hassan, former editor-in-chief of “Masrahna”, a newspaper issued by Egypt’s Ministry of Culture, wrote on Facebook that “Abbas’s performance was genius and deserves an Oscar for Best Actor”.
“The public turnout is evidence of people’s need for good art,”Abdul-Rahman Mohsen
Played the role of the doctor
Saber was delighted with the increasing audiences and supportive reaction. He also sees a “hope for a new theatrical renaissance” in the student troupe.
University and amateur theatre groups “are the ones who alone bear the task of presenting serious theatre,” he said.
A Simplicity That Reaches Everyone
Mustafa Abdul-Hadi played the role of the doctor in a comic way that softened the play’s sad content.
“The public turnout is evidence of people’s need for good art,” he said, explaining that the show’s simplicity meant it succeeded in reaching everyone.
Sally Saeed, who plays the role of the mother, said the experience was rich from Day One because of the team’s belief in the play’s humanity.
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“Some of the audience cry every night,” she said. “I watched many videos and documentaries to learn how to deal with children with disabilities and qualify myself to play the mother. I was nominated for more than one prize in many festivals, but the real prize was to play in front of a diverse audience rather than just the Institute’s students.”