Women of the Arab Spring celebrated in trilogy of plays
PUBLISHED: 11:24 10 February 2015 | UPDATED: 11:24 10 February 2015
Writer Kay Adstead says The Singing Stones is as relevant to the Western world as it is to the Eastern, finds Alex Bellotti.
As the shocking murder of Egyptian protester Shaimaa Sabbagh last month showed, the Arab Spring revolutions which began in 2010 are still as sadly relevant as ever.
In particular, the killing shone a light on the rights of Eastern women – a subject further explored in The Singing Stones, a collection of short plays which run at the Arcola until February 28.
The show’s writer, Kay Adstead, first became interested in the Arab Spring while researching the London Riots in 2011. She quickly became shocked by the internet reports she was reading.
“The stories that were coming out on the blogs were really quite horrifying,” she says. “People didn’t really believe that women were being taken and virginity tested; the protesters suffered all kinds of horrors just for protesting.
“Even Amnesty at the time were doubting it, but it was all there on the blogs, which didn’t last very long. I was fascinated by it because it seemed as if people were keeping things under wraps and it kick-started my whole interest in what the Arab revolution meant for women everywhere.”
The Singing Stones is split into three plays. The first charts the fate of a group of dissident Syrian artists called Masasit Mati, who in 2013 created puppet shows mocking Assad. The second is an epic sketch of women joining in the Arab Spring from Tunisia to Libya and Kurdistan, while the third is a “revolutionary folk tale” based in magical realism.
It’s a hefty amount to cover in just a couple of hours, but Adshead – whose theatre company, Mama Quilla, specialises in promoting female actors and women’s rights – insists that the show also maintains a light humour and is as relevant to the Western world as it is to the Eastern.
“It’s not just about Arab women; it’s called women and the Arab revolution. It’s about how what has happened has affected all women’s lives.
“Women were tortured and killed but have been forgotten about. Some of them are still there battling, struggling and fighting to make a difference. People like the female fighting force in Kurdistan are taking a heroic stand against IS in a way that is barely credible, that level of heroism.”
The show notably features nine women and just one male actor, from a host of varying ethic and religious backgrounds. Featuring original films from Masasit Mati as well as musical compositions from Najma Akhtar, it “doesn’t provide any answers but asks a lot of questions” that Adshead hopes will keep this important subject alive for debate.
“The problem is that everyone is scared stiff after the Iraq war; everybody’s like a rabbit in the headlights,” she adds. “But we’ve seen what happens if you take that forward – look what’s happened in Syria. You create ideological black holes which not very nice people tend to fill unfortunately.
“We have to be active in terms of making sure human rights are respected. We all feel disempowered; I feel like a rabbit in the headlights too and nobody has an answer to it, but we need to keep the debate alive because it’s otherwise all too easy with British theatre to shut your eyes and see something which takes you out of yourself, that allows you not to have to think about these things.”
The Singing Stones runs at the Arcola Theatre until February 28. Visit arcolatheatre.com