‘Sour Lips’: Who is the Puppet, Who the String?

Nadia Ghanem recently attended a London showing of Sour Lips, a new play by Omar El-Khairy that explores the Tom MacMaster / Amina Arraf hoax.

By Nadia Ghanem

Production photo from "Sour Lips."
Production photo from Sour Lips.

“How old are you? Are you religious? What sect? Have you ever had sexual intercourse? Are you trustworthy?”

This is not the Syrian state police interrogating the “Gay Girl in Damascus,” it is an imagined Tom MacMaster, rehearsing until exhaustion the woman he faces, the identity he is e-creating.  Amina MacMaster, Tom Abdallah Arraf Al Omari.  Of these merging two, who is puppet and who is string?

Authorship, multiple authenticity, and the location of words on lips are all questions that playwright Omar El-Khairy, the puppet master of Sour Lips, has posed by showing how several layers of power relations affect story creation.

On an almost bare set, five actors hold the net El-Khairy has woven. At its core are the vibrant Lara Sawalha as Amina Arraf, controlled by and controlling Simon Darwen, the ingenious and domineering Tom MacMaster.  Celine Rosa Tan, Takunda Kramer, and Eden Vik form the lattice of the play as Chorus 1, 2 and 3, acting as Amina’s lovers and father, narrating as social commentators boxing-ring style, hip-hopping TV show tunes (“Wonder Woman!”), and beat-breaking cyber liturgy (“Shared on Twitter… Shared on Facebook…  Shared on GoogleBuzz”).

Simon_Darwen_Lara_Sawalha_Chorus copy
Production photo from Sour Lips.

El-Khairy presents in bursting flashes the events of the hoax, which unfolded on the screens of an international community high on current. Director Carissa Hope Lynch worked all the stage’s surfaces to construct the story’s prism: actors’ bodies, walls’ bodies projecting videos and photography, the audio space and blushing shades.

“Tom, can’t you see what you’ve done, you fed their insatiable appetite for the more,” Amina warns as the man behind the woman gets uncovered by investigative journalists.

Sour Lips is a dynamic, thoughtful satire on the deranged and masterful creation of a single writer who slapped our state of virtual gullibility and almost permanent acquiescence to the technical environment we evolve in with one flaming-bright e-cuff.  MacMaster, a “21st century Schizoid Man,” “living in the 21st century doin’ something mean to it” who showed us that he “Do it better then anybody you ever seen do it.”*

Sour Lips is running at the Ovalhouse Theatre in London until 16 February and who knows, illusionist Tom MacMaster might just be there, in the audience.

*Author’s note: From “Power” by Kanye West, one track among several whose ironical lyrics you’ll enjoy when you go to Sour Lips.

Nadia Ghanem is a reader based in London and tweets at @ayatghanem.