The text-programme for The Prophet helpfully lists bloggers and tweeters as a means of keeping up with swiftly changing Egyptian politics. Despite being set last year, it could not be more topical.
Silas Carson (Hani) and Sasha Behar (Layla) in The Prophet at the Gate Theatre, London (previous picture shows Melanie Jessop as Suzanne) Photo: Tristram Kenton
The action takes place on January 28, 2011, against a backdrop of febrile excitement, as the protests gather momentum in Tahrir Square. Layla and Hisham are a well-educated, liberal couple whose seven-year marriage has gone stale. Hisham is writing a novel; Layla, more politically active, is an engineer. Hisham breaks his writer’s block by inventing a lurid, brutal version of his own guilty story; like the playwright he turns horror into art, but for a less worthy reason.
Abdulrazzak, whose Baghdad Wedding won several awards, has employed some of the techniques of documentary theatre, incorporating testimony from protesters and witnesses. This urgent material is vividly delivered by Sasha Behar as Layla. It is here that the strength of the piece lies, despite the horribly believable torture scenes elsewhere.
Melanie Jessop does her best with the far-fetched role of a vengeful literary agent. Nitzan Sharron as Hisham effectively conveys the agonies of physical suffering, and Silas Carson switches easily between Layla’s love-struck boss and a pigeon-fancying torturer.
It is a shame that the tension dissipates somewhat between scenes without a black-out in Christopher Haydon’s otherwise gripping production.
As the play ends, both Layla and Hisham have reached life-changing decisions, but their travails have scarcely begun. A satisfactory conclusion is no nearer for them than a peaceful resolution is for Egypt.