YOU Bury Me, recently seen at Bristol Old Vic, was joint winner of the inaugural Women’s Prize for Playwriting in 2020, a prize Tunisian-born novelist and poet Ahlam shared with Amy Trigg.
The daughter of a political activist forced into exile from his Algerian home, before returning to hold high office in the newly-formed government, Ahlam had a ringside seat as the Arab Spring movement swept across northern Africa in 201, watching its initial success and in some cases quick failure as one form of dictatorship replaced another.
It is against this background, between 2011 and 2015, that Ahlam sets her story of six young people coming of age in the all-enveloping city of Cairo. The problem is how to balance the story of the Arab Spring, and what a direct influence it has upon these young people, and their personal stories as they discover their true selves, love, sex and passion.
For all that the firm and experienced hand of director Katie Posner can clearly be seen on the production, and her expert use of Sara Perks minimalist sets and Aideen Malone’s atmospheric lighting, there are moments when the personal and political elements clash rather than enhance one another. Gradually the political arguments take a back seat as the personal relationships take centre stage.
First to emerge is the Romeo and Juliet love affair between Hanna Khogali’s shy Muslim girl Alla, and Moe Bar-El’s equally gauche Tamer. Their fumbling first attempts at love- making provided fun for the audience and a sharp reminder of the pain and frustration that goes with that moment. When they later make a desperate bid for freedom from the parental and political shackles that bind them, attempting to cross the Mediterranean bound for Italy on a tiny raft, we wish them well.
As with more than one question thrown up by the play, we never discover if they made it or not.
One thing we can be sure of is that after many internal battles, during which they continually deny their own feelings, Yasemim Ozdemir’s ebullient flirtatious Maya, and Eleanor Nawal’s lovely thoughtful Lina finally, in a most delicate way show their true romantic feelings.
An even stronger bond of friendship comes from what at first appeared to be a most unlikely combination of the strong political activist writer Osman, played with unflinching honesty by Tarrrick Benham, and what we originally think of as the most frivolous of characters, Nezar Alderazi’s Rafik. Osman is the only one of the six to stay fully committed to the beliefs of the Arab Sprig, but flees to Canada to carry on the fight from afar. It is the would-be film star or TV personality,rather than political activist Rafik, who makes the ultimate sacrifice to the new regime in order to protect his friend Osman.
There was some fine ensemble playing throughout, helping to keep the action flowing, but I question whether presenting the a 110 minute long play – and advertising it as lasting and hour and a half without an interval – was the best call.
Photograph Pamela Wraith