Nadim Sawalha on a world he also loves.Date: 11 May 2012
A World I Loved is probably the most eagerly anticipated event in the entire Brighton Festival programme. This, World Premiere, is a staged interpretation, with music and readings, of Wadad Makdisi Cortas’s acclaimed memoir. The piece is narrated by Vanessa Redgrave and stars Mariam Said, Najla Said and the Brighton Festival Youth Choir together with Nadim Sawalha, father of Nadia and Julia, who talked to me about the show.
Could you tell me how you got involved in the piece?
Well, I am an Arab actor, and I’ve been doing it for some time now. I have worked with Vanessa Redgrave before and, as the show deals with the history of a part of the world in which I was born, and lived for some time, I have, of course, both sympathy for, and understanding of, the issues and I am absolutely delighted to be a part of it.
Is the show as strong and powerful as the memoir itself?
I think so, yes. The essence of theatre is always surprise and I think it will be a very surprising piece of theatre in the sense that it is part of the world that doesn’t really feature in the daily routine of English thinking. It’s the Middle East, it’s Greater Syria, it’s 1920 through to 1990 and it’s a review of the history of that period by an enlightened, educated Arab woman. So there are lots of surprises in store.
Is it a theatre piece with narration?
Not exactly, Vanessa is narrating the lady herself and I am reading the men’s parts in it, but there are an awful lot of visuals of what that part of the world looked like from all those years ago and there’s music, we have a choir so it’s a full production. It’s not just someone sitting there narrating – I think it will be quite cinematic with a lot of audio and visual effects that are all of an excellent standard.
Maybe we can also learn from seeing the piece?
You know, I think it is very good to see the root of things. The story happens at a time when I was a small kid and the world she loved was a very different world then. The whole of the Middle East was rather simple at heart with not too many divisions. Now there are too many divisions, people are too clever and there are too many decisions to be made.
The are so many barriers and we have suddenly become Sunnis, Shi’ites, Maronites, Christians and Jews and it’s quite an unhappy state of affairs and I think it is very interesting to see how this came about over the years. We can see that it is a tumultuous time, but why? We need to look at the roots and that is what we do in this theatre piece.
Does her story have parallels with your own childhood?
Yes indeed it does. I come from Jordan which, compared to Lebanon, is a little bit nearer to the desert. Lebanon is just across the lake from Europe and has always had the influence of the European Christian world upon it. The people are better educated and politically more enlightened but it is very much in parallel with not only my life, but, even more so, the life of my Mother. They featured my mother’s story on Who Do You Think You Are?, with my daughter Julia and the two tales are very similar.
They went to Jordan with Julia to see the roots from which she emerged and that was very interesting and fascinating for me and a lovely journey of discover and this production is an equally fascinating journey of discovery. We will travel trough history from the time of the Ottoman Empire right the way through to the arrival of the “American Dream”, so to speak.
The World Premiere of A World I Loved, plays, for one night only, at Theatre Royal Brighton on 12 May at 7.30pm