Launching Manara: a ‘MENA Theatre Invasion of the United Kingdom’

The brand new Manara Theatre — brainchild of award-winning playwrights Hassan Abdulrazzak and Hannah Khalil — will launch, as part of London’s Shubbak Festival, with a series of readings July 13. The readings will be of new works by Ahlam, Zoukak, Sahar Assaf & Wael Kadour:

As the launch approached, director and co-founder Hannah Khalil answered a few questions about the project for ArabLit.

I’d love to know when you formed, and around what proximate questions, ideas, and dreams Manara has taken — and is taking — shape?

Hannah Khalil: Hassan Abdulrazzak has been talking to me about forming a company for work from the Arab world for a few years and at first I was reticent. I’ve produced my own plays before and know how tough it is especially with the funding landscape now. But the more we discussed it and what it could be the more excited I became. Rather than focusing on productions we want to find and promote work by MENA writers – advocate and amplify amazing work and writers who are already here. We then roped in the brilliant actress and producer Taghrid Choucair Vizoso to join us on this exciting journey. The relationships she has already formed with many artists in the Arab world are going to be a huge asset to us on our adventure.

What absences does Manara hope to move into? How does this add to & change (& adapt to) the current UK theatre scene?

HK: There is no Arab theatre company and as artists in the diaspora we wanted access to the canon of classical Arab plays as well as plays by our peers. I don’t speak Arabic but Hassan does, so for me it’s about understanding the literary tradition in which I’m writing. Also saying to a UK audience and UK theatre-makers alike: Look at this wealth of wonderful work – get stuck in!

Why “theatre invasion”? To me it suggests plays coming into the UK (as translations or otherwise) rather than Arab-British productions?

HK: It’s exactly that – giving artists in the diaspora access to their artistic heritage as well as other theatre makers. We want to encourage others to amplify and produce the work. Hassan coined the ‘theatre invasion’ term and the idea was to be a bit tongue in cheek to tease the way Arabs are all too often perceived in the Western media.

These are your first productions? What do they say about the Manara aesthetic? What sorts of theatre will you be looking to bring to the UK? Or to foster within UK theatre communities?

HK: The invitation by Shubbak and the Gate to co-curate the readings crystalised our intentions as Manara. We had the opportunity to encounter some really exciting new work that busts stereotypes and up turns any prejudice about theatre work in the Arab world or by Arab writers being inaccessible or in any way inferior. These are some of the most compelling exciting plays I’ve read in a long time.

These first works are all fairly young & new. Will you also bring in classics (Saadallah Wannous, Tawfiq al-Hakim, Yusuf Idris) or are you focused on work being written in the 21st c.?

HK: We will hope to do other reading series, and absolutely we want to include classics. One strand of our work in the future will be to create an archive of classic Arabic plays in translation, so we will be seeking funding to get some of the plays that don’t yet exist in English translation.

More from Manara:


More from Khalil and Abdulrazzak:

Sykes-Picot: The Legacy: Five Modern Plays by Hannah Khalil, Hassan Abdulrazzak, and Joshua Hinds

Divided World: Plays of Occupation and Dispossession