Playwright Laila Soliman on Tahrir and Her ‘Alternative Version of History’

I have been scheduled to do a long profile on Egyptian playwright Laila Soliman, (some of) whose work I admire. But 2011 has continued to be turbulent, and keeping to a schedule has been a bit like keeping all the deck chairs in place during a hurricane.

I first ran across Soliman’s theater work in print, in the collection Plays from the Arab World. There, her “Egyptian Products” grabbed my attention as one of the best of an excellent collection.

Then, in June, Soliman’s controversial response to revolution, “No Time for Art” attracted wide attention in Cairo. It was followed by her “Lessons in Revolting”  later in the summer. Both were collaborative; both attracted both fans and very strong critics.

This week, Soliman has an interesting Q&A in Qantara, where she talks about revolution and her recent projects. She says:

One of the aims of my work is to create an alternative version of history with the means of theatre. Especially now, where one can already see how the official history is being written.

She adds:

I didn’t at all want to react to the revolution in the way it’s been defined in the West. And that was the same for everyone involved in the piece. We decided to look for other ways of carrying the struggle forward, since we can no longer go on to the streets as we did before.


The title “Lessons in Revolting” refers of course to what we have learnt and what the public could learn. “Revolting” is not only meant in the sense of revolution, but also in the sense of throwing up when you can’t stand something any more. One can learn how to vomit. It’s not about the romantic revolutionary metaphor of the raised fist, but about the relationship between revolution and vomit. That’s more like what we’ve experienced.

I’m not quite sure what she means by that. But Soliman notes that, as far as the censor’s office goes, this has been a period of freedom for the theater:

The censor’s office doesn’t work right now, because we have a transitional government and a transitional ministry of culture. So nobody knows what the rules are, or even who makes the rules. The army has its own censor, but they probably think that theatre isn’t important. They are more worried about television, newspapers, bloggers and internet activists.

You can watch a rehearsal from “Lessons in Revolting”: