12 June 2017

Zig Zig

I was back in Hebbel am Ufer last April for the third time, in order to watch a play by Egyptian playwright Laila Soliman. My previous two experiences with this venue were both avant-garde or politically-charged theatre, so I was expecting the same this time. Zig Zig is a play performed by 5 women, about the rape incidents in the Egyptian village of Nazlat al-Shobak in 30. and 31. March 1919. British soldiers essentially raped women and burned houses down. The only evidence we have right now are the military records from the British Archives, and this play dramatizes the events, from the Egyptian perspective.

The play consisted of five women, of which one was not speaking at all (but she was a violinist and provided music for the whole time). The remaining four all spoke Arabic and English, and the play had German and English surtitles. The women take on various roles, from the women victims during the incident, to the military court officers. The scenes are more or less non-linear, jumping back and forth from the perspective of the Egyptians, to the British court, and so forth. Numbered archive documents would be read one by one, and events would be reenacted from various perspectives. It was quite spectacular from a theatre production perspective.

I liked the performance overall and I must say it is one of the more unique plays I have seen. Events like these make me appreciate again how awesome a city Berlin is, where you have the chance to watch a play in a language like Arabic, for example. I also liked the ingenious use of the theatre: we didn't sit at the regular places, but rather, they transformed the stage area into a large black box theatre, in effect, we were sitting on seats constructed in the back stage area.

It was a sober and powerful piece: in the end it makes you think and realize that what happened in 1919 in Egypt could still easily happen now, and that no matter how much progress we have made with women's rights, there are parts of the world where things could still catch up. Just look at some of the cases of rape in some countries, where it is the victim who is imprisoned for having premarital sex, and not the perpetrator, for sexually violating another human being. The world definitely still has some catching up to do.


  1. I always envy your cultural outings. You often take chances, you're curious about the world... love it.

    1. Zhu,

      I suppose that is true: it is after all one thing I really like about being here in Berlin. There are so many international things going on, and it does satisfy my curiosity about what the rest of the world is like. I would even go as far as saying that this feature of Berlin is really important for me, such that I would try my best to remain here as opposed to moving elsewhere.