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Review: A History of Water in the Middle East, at Royal Court Upstairs

Dazzling poetry, lighting, video and music in Sabrina Mahfouz’s whirlwind tour of trouble spots affected by British colonisation

17 October, 2019 — By Lucy Popescu

David Mumeni, Kareem Samara and Laura Hanna in A History of Water in the Middle East. Photo: Craig Sugden

SABRINA Mahfouz’s rousing “lecture-gig” demonstrates how water in the Middle East is as important as oil. We are made of water, Mahfouz observes, and “water shapes landscapes, lies, legacies…”

In just over an hour, using a dazzling array of poetry, lighting, video and music, Mahfouz and her three fellow performers take us on a whirlwind tour of various trouble spots affected by British colonisation.

What makes many of these countries so attractive is their access to water; essential for trade, crucial to transport oil. We begin in Bahrain, which became a British protectorate in 1880, and end in war-torn Yemen, where, last year, 40 boys were killed by a bomb manufactured by a British company.

Interwoven into this condensed political history is Mahfouz’s own journey. British-Egyptian, she is approached by the British to be a spy, is vetted and rejected. Her background is deemed too much of a risk and her unpaid university debt apparently leaves her open to bribery.

Laura Hanna almost steals the show with her stunning vocals and Kareem Samara offers terrific percussive accompaniment.

David Mumeni, who plays the pompous British agent, is allowed his moment in the spotlight singing about the Sweet Suez Canal to the tune of Sweet Caroline.

Stef O’Driscoll’s inventive production will appeal to a young audience. Mahfouz’s message is unequivocal – Britain and its colonial past continue to reverberate in the region – but her potted version of history left me wanting more.

Until November 16
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