Comedy play sheds light on Saudi women’s issues

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Saudi Gazette

JEDDAH
— A comedy production that is now playing here this month is seen as a beginning of a thriving theater culture that was once unfamiliar to Saudis.

The play ‘Memoirs of a Ghost’ starring an all-female cast sheds light on Saudi women’s issues in a span of 60 years, such as the ban on driving, legal guardianship system and marriage troubles.

Writer and producer Sahar Bahrawi and directer Maha Noorilahi, who have both received formal education in drama, say they are delighted that theater is now welcomed unlike in the past.

They have partnered with Dar Al Hekma University as a venue for the play.

The show is starring young Saudi actresses Shorooq Al-Tayeb along with social media celebrities Darin Al Bayed and Alaa Al-Jahdali.

The play presents three women who passed away in different times, namely the conservative 1950s, the peak of extremism in the 1990s and this year. The characters’ spirits begin a friendship in Umm Hawwa, Jeddah’s oldest graveyard, and revisit their lives.

Bahrawi says she was inspired to write the script in light of gradual developments in women’s rights and social change in the Kingdom.

“Hopefully this will be the beginning of women’s theater where families are offered entertainment that will enrich the culture here,” she said. “I hope a thousand others will write plays as we’re currently lacking writers and education in drama.”

Asked why she chose the theme of ghosts, she said she wanted to direct people’s attention to important events in Saudi history, especially “true events that not many people know about”.

“To be able to combine women from different eras and have them converse with each other is a funny idea. It’s a comedy but at the same time deep and meaningful,” she said.

Noorilahi describes her experience as delightful where “the play combines all the elements of a complete drama.”

Darin Al Bayed, known for her comic skits, was chosen by the director for her “ability to reflect society”. Al Bayed, who previously played roles on TV and YouTube shows, told Saudi Gazette her acting in theater was a new experience. “I enjoyed learning about Qassimi culture, where my character is from. I didn’t expect I would learn the accent this quickly and I loved it,” she told Saudi Gazette.

The experience of going to a theater is new here and is a “good change”, says Dr. Suhair Al Qurashi, president of Dar Al Hekma University that recently partnered with New York Film Academy to offer students training in filmmaking and drama.

“An outing like this raises the cultural taste and artistic sense in people,” she further said. “I was very happy to see the level of enthusiasm and engagement from the audience.”

“It’s an emotional mix of funny and tearful,” commented one guest who has enjoyed the performance.

Although the play was not sold out on its first night, the cast justifies it’s due to several other entertainment events going on during the same weekend, a recent occurrence in the Kingdom where the only outlets available were malls and restaurants.

Although it is not the first play for the public, it is the first time where plays are supported by the General Entertainment Authority and is organized in online ticket booths and found in directories. The play’s tickets range between SR200 and SR350 per person.

'Memoirs of a Ghost' that premiered last Thursday is now playing until April 26.


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