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The Big Bad Stage


When I tell people, “I want to direct plays,” they smile like I just told a joke. Then I add, “in Kuwait.” At best, that gets me a raised eyebrow and a polite, slow nod. You know, like I just said, “I’m going to take the KPTC bus. From Sharq to Ahmadi.”
Nothing throws your average Kuwaiti off like talking about theatre. Ask if they watch plays. Do they admit to it? Do they shuffle their feet and shrug? Do they repeat the clichéd exultations of that golden age circa 1970? They’re at a complete loss because the whole country can’t make up its mind about theatre! The pendulum swings too quickly between Admiration and Disgust.
Edward Albee’s black comedy Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was a groundbreaking socio-political satire of its era and makes for an excellent paradigm through which to view current Kuwaiti theatre practice. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is a tragically hysterical play that mirrors our tragically hysterical reality.
Fun and Games
The Guardian (UK) published an article in 2007 commending The National Theatre for innovatively advertising plays by showcasing e-trailers on their YouTube channel. Technically, The National Theatre’s ‘innovation’ was the use of social media and not in the production of ‘trailers for plays’. The article fails to mention Pippin, a musical that premiered at the Imperial Theatre in 1972. It broke new grounds with the first TV commercial that showed scenes from a Broadway show, and was followed by other commercials for the much-loved Grease, The Wiz and Evita. Kuwait’s cutting edge theatre movement has, for decades now, used ‘trailers for plays’—although the purposes and quality may slightly differ.
Theatre artists (and I use the term with great trepidation) in Kuwait have been using TV commercials to advertise plays since, at least, the early 1980s. Play commercials continue to invade advertising space each year before and during the season (Eid al-Fitr), conjuring a national passion for predominantly comedic theatrical entertainment. These short trailers, with music, dance and a famous entourage set the stage for fun and games. The scathing verbal battles  characteristic to Kuwaiti plays (and ironically reminiscent of Albee’s own writing) are merely done in jest to score laughs rather than shed light on the social ills they gloss over.