Iraq war refugees in Britain, new theatre play


This video from Britain says about itself:

Nabil Elouahabi and Rashid Razaq discuss their new play, The Nightmares of Carlos Fuentes, with Juliette Foster on Arise News, 17 July 2014.

By Joe Gill in Britain:

The power of nightmares

Tuesday 5th August 2014

Nabil Elouahabi tells JOE GILL how he came to produce and star in a new play about an Iraqi refugee in Britain

Nabil Elouahabi took the opening night bow at the Arcola Theatre in Dalston last week to loud applause for a play that he not only stars in but nurtured from an idea to its realisation.

Written by Evening Standard journalist Rashid Razaq and directed by Nicholas Kent, The Nightmares of Carlos Fuentes tells the story of an Iraqi refugee who comes to Britain and changes his name to that of the famous Mexican writer in a semi-comical attempt to disguise his Arab origins and forget the horrors of Iraq.

Told in a fragmented narrative, it’s a funny, sad and moving drama in which Carlos (born Salim) meets a rich Englishwoman called Lydia (Caroline Langrishe) while working as a waiter. He marries her but ultimately cannot escape his past — he left a wife and daughter in war-torn Baghdad.

The play opens with Carlos handcuffed to a hotel bed during a dirty weekend with Lydia — a sharp and witty two-hander in which a sex game morphs into an English history test for the would-be British citizen.

By the end we are taken full circle as the story jumps between 2006 and 2011, each scene introduced with a video speech from western political leaders, including Bush, Blair and Cameron, reminding us of the doublespeak used to justify the Iraq war.

Ultimately we see the impact of political deception in the tragedy of Carlos’s life but rather than a mere victim, his eccentricities, struggles with the language — captured brilliantly in the script and Elouahabi’s performance — and naive dreams of becoming a true Englishman keep the piece grounded at the human level.

We believe wholeheartedly that Elouahabi is Carlos/Salim — an innocent everyman caught up in brutal geopolitics.

Elouahabi is best known for his TV and film work — playing Tariq in East Enders, with parts in 24, Zero Dark Thirty and two Michael Winterbottom films — but recently he has been searching for more interesting roles than the two-dimensional terrorists he was being offered.

“I was becoming very frustrated with the parts that were available and the prism through which we see Arabs,” he says.

“I am lucky in that I do work, but that’s not to say that there isn’t a frustration that the roles you are doing are peripherals, always seen as an addition. I wanted to completely change the theatrical lens and make them the centrepiece.”

Ultimately this led to him producing The Nightmares of Carlos Fuentes, the seeds of which were born when he read a collection of short stories by Iraqi writer Hassan Blasim back in 2009.

“I’d been working with Nick Kent at the Tricycle and I was fortunate enough to be part of a trilogy of plays called The Great Game: Afghanistan. Then Nick retired and I thought he’d be an interesting person to take this piece to because it had a political dimension to it and I knew that was his brand.”

Elouahabi asked Kent if he would consider directing a play based on the Blasim story. “One of the strengths of Nicholas Kent’s direction is his ability to hang the piece on a political frame without it being didactic — it’s always through the personal. It’s about his wife, his daughter, about the human in all of us.”

Kent was moved by the story of displacement and assimilation. Next Elouahabi asked Razaq, whose work he had seen and liked, to write a script on spec. Kent was impressed with Razaq’s draft script. Two years and 20 drafts later, the play took to the stage.

“It’s the first time I’ve put on the producer’s hat,” says Elouahabi.

“For me it’s about creating the right alliance, getting the right people to do the right jobs and letting them get on with it.”

The play opened with Iraq once again in the headlines. “We’ve just recently had this surge in sectarian violence in Iraq with Isis coming through, forcing Shias and Sunnis to divorce, so this is absolutely topical right now.”

Elouahabi has recently made headlines for talking about the paucity of good roles for Arab and black actors in British drama. “For me it’s about enriching the theatrical landscape as opposed to making it exclusive,” he says.

“We all benefit from sharing stories with different people in them. There is a fear that ‘oh no, that’s a story with Arabs in it,’ but actually if the stories and characters are on the front foot, everything else is irrelevant. It’s all about the writers and the people at the top believing those stories are going to be watched.

“I’m not on a political mission, but simply from an audience perspective, why just have fish and chips? It’s like food, now we like hummus – let’s put more food on the table. Right now it’s just a bit samey samey.”

Runs until August 16. Box office (020) 7503-1646.

Refugees from the world’s conflicts came to Westminster to share their stories, writes JEREMY CORBYN: here.

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5 thoughts on “Iraq war refugees in Britain, new theatre play

  1. Pingback: Iraq war refugees in Britain, new theatre play | The Socialist

  2. Pingback: Re-starting Iraq war, immoral and stupid | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  3. Pingback: 3.7 million Iraqi refugees; ‘thank you’, Bush and Blair | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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