I in no mean belittle this advice, I’m here to report the facts. And by facts I mean points of interest that capture my attention…
Allergen warning: there will be loose wheat as part of the set
This was in the programme notes and outside the door to the studio. The warning went onto explain that there was evidence that ‘the presence of wheat can cause allergens/illness with coeliacs, I believed them. I couldn’t quite imagine what I was walking into, but I believed them.
Once the wheat started flying I applauded this sentiment and warning even more. The title of this play was part analogy part literal – never more so than when the grains were poured and faux flour flew into the air creating a sort of culinary cloud.
The effect was hypnotic, much like the rest of the performance, visually, audibly, linguistically…
Egyptian-born feminist theatre-maker, Miray Sidhom’s show, commissioned by Contact, traces the history of political uprising from present day back to the Pharaonic era, just over a decade on from the 2011 Arab Spring (a series of anti-government protests which led the resignation of Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak).
Throughout the performance, Miray provides these historical accounts of protest against poverty and repression, and intersperses them with childhood memories, looking at matters through a personal lens and lending insight to a universal theme. The audience (forgive me for speaking for you, fellow theatre-goers, but I’m taking a punt based on the reaction I witnessed) was educated and enthralled, inspired and entertained throughout what felt like a fast-paced 60 minutes.
Generous with her audience, Miray shared audio of her mother, anecdotes from the breakfast table and…a playful confession towards the end that she’d never actually baked bread (not even over lockdown). As with everything in the piece, there was more meaning to this aside than to provoke a laugh.
She had never made bread, she had never protested on the ‘front line’ or been there in 2011. But that was ok. This piece was her form of protest, her tool to raise awareness in a world, well Britain specifically, where the right to protest is becoming threatened.
We were taught the importance of bread to the ancient and not so ancient Egyptians, the continuous loop it plays a part in.
The grain is required to make the bread to make the money to pay the workers who require the money to buy the bread. The bread (almost exclusively at one time) is required to live. For Egyptians, bread has been a staple of diet, of industry, of financial stability.
Bread also plays its own part in cultural symbolism. Miray demonstrates one such example with the simple starter dough. The moment water is added, everything in that mix takes on a new form forever. There is a reaction, and intervention; a change. This is protest.
Once the biggest exporter, Egypt now relies on the import process for its wheat. In fact it is the biggest importer of wheat in the world. Miray earlier flagged the importance of political stability in the import process.
By the way, Egypt imports its wheat from Ukraine and Russia.
And a dramatic rise in prices, for reasons that don’t require explanation, has pushed Egypt’s inflation into double figures.
And just like that, real life sadly added weight and a live case study to The Bread We Break.
Back to the performance itself, right at the top, the rhythmic tone was set with the beautiful drumming and tambourine sounds brought to the piece by Medhat Elmasry.
As Miray danced, shimmied, swayed and poured wheat (yes, I told you), she used every inch of the stage and every movement was deliberate, meaningful and hypnotic.
I was further enthralled by the technique of the live record, playback, repeat and loop of vocals, words and even pouring water, which created a wall of sound and poetry as the crescendo reached its climax.
Miray’s work and indeed talent isn’t restricted to just one or even two disciplines. Writer, actor, musician, dancer, poet, performer… I guess artist covers all?
The hour spent in that intimate space at Contact was a pleasure and I look forward to seeing, hearing, listening and generally immersing myself in Miray’s work again in future.
And I learnt a thing or two as well.
To find out what’s coming up at Contact Theatre visit: www.contactmcr.com
The Bread We Break was commissioned by Contact and supported using public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.
Director – Alix Harris
Designer – Sascha Gilmour
Producer – Roxanne Moores
Composer – Shaun Fairweather
Projection Design – Tracey Gibbs
Musician – Medhat Elmasry