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EDINBURGH 2019: BWW Review: BEFORE THE REVOLUTION, SummerhallBefore the Revolution is a short piece from Egypt's Temple Independent Theatre Company, making their Fringe debut at Summerhall this year. It aims to explore the varied elements that sparked the Egyptian Revolution of 2011, portraying the political upheaval as the inevitable result of two decades of build-up.

It provides enlightening context to the revolution, taking in corruption, sexual harassment, media influence, terrorist incidents and national disasters along the way. By the time it reaches its conclusion, with jokes at the expense of deposed leader Hosni Mubarak, it gives the sense of a society shaped by hardships, humour and a hunger for change.

Ahmed El Attar, who wrote and directed Before the Revolution, has chosen a distinctive style for his production. Two performers (Ramsi Lehner and Nanda Mohammad) stand on a simple set bringing to mind a bed of nails, remaining stationary throughout the piece. The script, entirely in Arabic with projected surtitles, is often narrative, sometimes with a sense of interaction, but has everything played directly out to the audience.

The static style of the play is a conscious choice on the part of director El Attar, wishing to challenge audiences' preconceptions, both of the material and of theatre itself. Indeed, it is something of a challenge, as the verbose nature of the script means the audience are constantly having to keep up with quickly changing projected information.

Occasionally, this was made more difficult as the surtitles were sometimes out of order, or too wordy for the small screen area. This was the first performance of the run, so these issues will hopefully be rectified quickly.

It is clear that a lot of thought and passion has gone in to this production. El Attar's production features subtly shifting lighting and a sharp, arresting soundtrack by Hassan Khan, which effectively communicates the growing urgency of simmering unrest.

Lehner and Mohammad both give confident, intense and committed performances, and Mohammad in particular is able to emote beautifully in a subtle fashion while maintaining stillness. The reliance on quick reading, however, meant that a lot of the details of the acting was likely lost.

The material that serves as a basis to Before the Revolution was interesting and some of the presentation was informative. The staging, however, does not serve a script that jumps around frequently between different situations, particularly when some of the changes in performance are missed due to the audience's eyes being elsewhere.

The overall impression is of a piece that is worthy and intriguing, bringing understanding of the complexities of a fascinating area of recent history, but not entirely successful in its realisation.

Before the Revolution is at Summerhall until 25 August (not 19)

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Photo credit: Mostafa Abdel Aty

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