Sabrina Mahfouz is quick to undercut A History of Water in the Middle East’s affected title. “Highly condensed and highly edited”, she amends cheerfully underneath Khadija Raza and Prema Mehta’s throbbing, vein-like neon piping.
Part lecture, part gig, part poetry, part play, Mahfouz skips through mediums as easily as she does through a potted history of British imperialism in the Middle East. The personal and the political cannot be extricated, Mahfouz suggests – and as such, things are liable to get messy.
Mahfouz’s text ebbs and flows, absorbing Samara’s rich and silky soundscape like water soaking through a sponge. It’s a dense piece, inevitably so, filled with statistics, names, and dates, but Stef O’Driscoll directs Mahfouz and Laura Hanna with a deft hand.
They perform the text lightly, often playfully, but with a definitively wiry edge as they traverse Raza’s tiered, grey-slabbed set. Her design makes the Jerwood Theatre Upstairs space seem huge. The set is almost insurmountable, it almost seems silly for them to even try, and yet they attempt it with a wonderful, offhand carelessness.
It does feel like some of the storytelling moments haven’t fully coalesced into the production as a whole – they drag the piece down, rather than deepen an already deeply human piece of work.
But at its best, A History of Water has an intoxicating, headily persuasive energy to it. When David Mumeni’s Spy pierces through the piece, demanding to know “Who made you? Was it us or them?” of the British-Egyptian Mahfouz, it’s as if the air has been sucked from the room.