Before the Revolution, despite its simplicity, proves a poignant and reflective discussion of how miniscule causes lead up to a great event. Katherine Knight reviews:

Two actors stand amid a bed of nails. It’s a striking visual – together but separate, they are rendered immobilised. And, fittingly, they remain so for the entire performance.

Ferry incidents. Train fires. Sports anthems. Prayers. It builds and builds and builds, ending with some jocular political satire. And then, suddenly, the stage goes dark.

Before Revolution Summerhall
Image courtesy of Mostafa Abdel Aty

Watching Before the Revolution is like being placed in a vice and slowly, inescapably, having the screws turned around you. A pressure cooker of a performance, the atmosphere is condensed and condensed as the date grows nearer to 25 January 2011, the first day of the Egyptian Revolution. This piece of powerful Arabic spoken word by Temple Independent Theatre Company attempts to explain all those miniscule factors, small and confusing, which snowball seemingly inevitably into something greater than its parts.

I know very little about this aforementioned revolution before seeing the show.

I am unable to separate the fiction here from the fact.

But Before the Revolution makes me want to know more. The people behind the names, murmured and announced and begged. Ages. Addresses. Listed and listed. Inescapable.

Before Revolution Summerhall
Ramsi Lehner & Nanda Mohammad (image courtesy of Mostafa Abdel Aty)

Small, apparently irrelevant stories are told, parables from television shows and the arguments of a divorcing couple. But it is the force of emotion with which these are delivered that makes them fit into the story at large. Even more impressive with the performers immobilised, not daring even to move their hands as both voices and music swell. Nanda Mohammad is a particularly emphatic performer; she remains spellbinding as she recollects a haunting sexual assault. The story is told through the falling of a smile and a horror in the eyes, and somehow it is enough to tell it all.

Technical elements in Before The Revolution need sharpening to make watching a little easier. The reading of the subtitles takes a little getting used to, projected as they are at the back of the stage. Moving either subtitles downstage or actors upstage will make the scene easier to appreciate as a whole. But this becomes easier as the text easily settles into something resembling a rhythm, universally understood despite the language barrier. A fully translated adaption wouldn’t capture all of the cadences and poetics of the original spoken word, nor its subtle rhymes.

Before Revolution Summerhall
Temple Independent Theatre Company

A poignant and informative piece, Before The Revolution highlights not only what has been, but why it has been so, and leaves us looking to learn from the mistakes of the past.

★★★★☆

Before The Revolution is now playing at Summerhall until 24 August 2019. For more information or to buy tickets, please visit the festival website.