Word of mouth – it is a much stronger tool than most people realize… it’s what made me incredibly curious as to what 1980 Wenta Talea (1980 and Onwards), a greatly successful culturally relevant play, is all about.
The play’s event kept popping up all over Facebook and the name somehow (in the same way as most things seem or sound familiar these days as a result of the digital age) seemed to ring a bell in my head – I was sure I had heard praise for 1980 Wenta Talea somewhere before.
An avid theatre-goer myself, I was eager to find out what all the hype was about. I made my way to the Hosapeer Theatre in downtown Cairo, a building with remnant traces of a bygone era in which going to the theatre meant so much more than a simple night out… with traces of a stained glass ceiling as you climb the staircase and wine red plush seats as you make your way into the theatre hall. Time has not been kind to the hall, well, time and a lack of adequate maintenance (especially considering that the hall is filled to capacity with every performance of 1980 Wenta Talea). After purchasing a floor ticket – which was all that was left by the time I got to the theatre – I managed to somehow hustle my way to an empty seat in the upstairs balcony area.
Following a couple of minutes of popular shaaby (a kind of Egyptian pop) music playing, the performance began. It started with a group of about 12 actors (three of them female, the rest male) gathered on stage and posing as if to take a photo together. A few one-liner jokes were cracked and then the actors froze in place and, in turn, each one of them recited their age or the year in which they were born – the oldest having been born in 1980.
This was the first of 18 separate sketches that tied the whole two-hour performance together. Each sketch individually brings to light certain culturally relevant topics that most Egyptian youth know all too well.
Topics ranged from those of a political nature, with a sketch in which someone was calling what seemed to be some kind of a ‘revolution hotline’ in order to book a protest, to those of a social nature, with a sketch featuring a young couple in which the female feels pressured to marry and the male feels pressured to buy an apartment.
For the most part, the sketches tackled thought-provoking, yet quite predictable topics and fluctuated between comedy and drama all too suddenly.
The comedic aspects of the performance, although met with a roar of laughter and applause from audience members – and deservedly so at some points, felt rather too cliché for the most part… while the dramatic moments were always accompanied by the same piece of melodramatic music that would basically spell out “prepare to be moved now.” Yes, there were some moving moments, however, the music just felt overdone at times.
Overall, some sketches were quite clever – such as their rendition of the popular operetta EL Leila El Kebira (The Big Night), singing its songs with different lyrics that address the difficult political situation of the country – while others felt a little unnecessary or too long – such as the last sketch in which two friends were driving a car but couldn’t go any further due to a fog (the fog is meant to be taken as a metaphor for the hazy future ahead of them). I was also slightly bothered by the fact that there seemed to be no clear dramatic structure to either the play as a whole or the separate sketches, as well as the fact that all topics discussed in the play were very straightforward, leaving no room for one’s imagination to wander.
Simply put… from an artistic perspective, the play was lacking. However, the nation-wide appreciation and praise is completely understandable. The play, for what it is – a play tackling cultural issues that Egyptian youth deal with on a daily basis – seems to strike a chord with the young audience members who attend. For most audience members, the play is a way in which they see their frustrations expressed and communicated on stage, and they feel the unified atmosphere in that everyone around them feels the same way they do.
Although the play undoubtedly leaves room for improvement in most theatrical aspects (ranging from lights, to blocking – not to mention that it could easily be cut down to half the time), I suppose – in a way – it does deliver in the form of being a therapeutic and entertaining way for audience members to deal with very real, everyday issues.
1980 Wenta Talea has showcased a number of performances ever since February 2015, successfully selling out almost every performance (although some variation of the play has also been showcasing for a couple of years now). It is currently being performed twice a day every day until Thursday, October 1. You can check out their Facebook page here.
Images provided by 1980 Wenta Talea crew.