- Rewriting Narratives in Egyptian Theatre: Translation, Performance, Politics eds. by Sirkku Aaltonen and Areeg Ibrahim, and: Tahrir Tales: Plays from the Egyptian Revolution eds. by Mohammed Albakry and Rebekah Maggor
Rewriting Narratives in Egyptian Theatre: Translation, Performance, Politics. Edited by Sirkku Aaltonen and Areeg Ibrahim. London: Routledge, 2016, 288 pp.; illustrations. $150.00 cloth, $52.16 paper, e-book available.
Tahrir Tales: Plays from the Egyptian Revolution. Edited by Mohammed Albakry and Rebekah Maggor. Kolkata: Seagull Books, 2016; 346 pp. $45.00 paper.
In 2016, Routledge and Seagull Books each released titles addressing Egyptian theatre and drama in translation. Rewriting Narratives in Egyptian Theatre: Translation, Performance, Politics gathers a formidable cast of scholars and practitioners working both on and in the Egyptian theatre and attempts to assemble them as a cohesive volume that addresses aspects of Egyptian theatrical translation from the 19th century up to the present day. Tahrir Tales: Plays from the Egyptian Revolution collates 10 original translations of contemporary Egyptian plays. The publication of both volumes is proof of the considerable development of Arabic theatre studies in English. This is important as scholars within this specialization often articulate anxiety about the invisibility of Arabic theatre in international theatre and performance scholarship. The two texts offer divergent experiences for the reader and different directions for the subfield of Arabic theatre studies.
Aaltonen and Ibrahim's volume consists of 13 chapters divided into 4 sections. In addition to an introductory preface from the editors, each section contains two or three scholarly pieces and one practitioner's "testimonial"—written by an Egyptian playwright-actor-director (Dalia Basiouny), translator (Mohamed Enani), theatre critic (Nehad Selaiha), or documentary [End Page 177] filmmaker (Mona Mikhail). The first three of these are of the strongest contributions in the volume and ensure a refreshing juxtaposition of practice and scholarship. The subsections each address currents the editors take up as four of the book's central queries: intercultural rewriting, interlingual rewriting, intercontextual rewriting, and intermedial rewriting. These four queries intersect with several other themes the editors gesture towards in the introduction alongside translation, including: transformation, reconstruction, representation, performance, and crossing borders.
With a few exceptions, Aaltonen and Ibrahim's volume shows a subfield in blithe intellectual isolation. The volume illustrates the drawback of approaches that privilege East-West or core-periphery encounters over interdisciplinary collaboration and debate. There are several ways the failure to engage recent critical scholarship on cultural production in the Arab world produces a questionable framework for the book. Most glaringly, several entries, including the editorial framework, proceed as if there has been no elaboration of orientalism or its effects since Edward Said's 1978 landmark text. There is an uncritical recirculation of "the West" as if it were a sovereign entity in relation to which Egypt's theatre should be understood. The phrase "the West" is used throughout with little elaboration and is meant to evoke both places and histories seemingly free of Arabic speakers, whose "encounter" with Egypt has been steady and materially constant since the 18th century. (This is so, despite Bassiouny's entry, which clearly performs the opposite.)
The problematic weight and authority of "the West" reproduced in the volume is felt most obviously in the decision to frame "translation" as a process concerned with English primarily, French secondarily, and Arabic. Nine of the 13 entries deal with translations of Arabic content into English while 4 consider translations of English plays into Arabic. The volume ultimately risks reifying the precise lines of orientalist expectation it identifies and claims to work against, namely the production of knowledge that values Egypt and its theatre when it is assessed through "Western" eyes. Translation and adaptation are almost exclusively conceived of here as a process of accessing English speakers or of making English content accessible to Egyptian audiences—as opposed to a wide array of...