Laila Soliman: ‘Bilingualism on Stage’

Egyptian playwright Laila Soliman, one of the great emerging Arab theatre artists, is giving a talk today in Cairo on “Bilingualism on Stage: The Case of ‘Hawa l-Huriya'”:


Soliman’s acclaimed “Whims of Freedom,” which will was most recently in Germany and will play next month in Brussels, is a collaborative effort between Soliman, a cultural historian, a musician, a political prisoner and an actress. Its use of multiple streams of information and collage style — somewhat reminiscent of a Sonallah Ibrahim novel — is part of Soliman’s signature style. The same collage-style can be found in her wonderful “Egyptian Products” as well as her controversial “No Time for Art” and “Lessons in Revolting.”

Soliman’s work also centers on how history is written. “Whims of Freedom” challenges conventional narratives of the 1919 Egyptian revolution. In a 2011 interview with Qantara, Soliman said, “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.”

On one of her blogs, in 2013, Soliman wrote that “this relationship between reflection and time was one of the key issues I am currently dealing with.”

Part of the tension of Soliman’s current play, “Whims of Freedom,” is between the state archives centering on 1919 and art and folk songs of the time. The show premiered in Cairo and then moved directly to London. After that, it went back to Cairo in October and on to Berlin and Freiburg in November.

Ruud Gielens, the show’s producer and creative advisor said, in an interview with Egyptian Streets, that he was worried about how people would receive this very Egyptian narrative, but, “Because it was so specific, it became universal again. The play is a history lesson in a way. It’s about a history that is completely unknown to the West.”

Gielens also said in the fall 2014 interview that they currently weren’t worried about Egyptian censors, but “It wouldn’t be a good idea to stage her [Soliman’s] former plays again now. We’re not necessarily worried [about censorship], but it definitely is something we talk about. We’re aware of the fact that what we are saying could be interpreted as non-patriotic. But anyhow they’re not focused on theatre.”

Soliman is not the only Egyptian to draw attention to 1919 — Ahmed Mourad’s latest novel, 1919, draws the same parallels. But Soliman’s style is wonderfully, intelligently frenetic, and her talk at AUC this evening will surely be worth attending.

Snapshots of Soliman:

Rolling Bulb: No Time for Art, by Doa Aly

Truth is Concrete: Q&A with Laila Soliman

Qantara: Vomit – Until the Revolution Comes

PEN America: Revolutionary Plays Since 2000: The Future of Political Theater

Mada Masr: Laila Suleiman’s Whims of Freedom

Egyptian Streets: Drawing Parallels Between Two Egyptian Revolutions By One Theatre Play