My First Encounter with Nehad Selaiha

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Most of these, sadly, provided me little insight. English-language sources were scarce and tended to focus on expat-driven community theatre. Arabic-language announcements of upcoming Gulf performances were rarely followed by reviews, and when they were, the review often simply cited the names of the play, the playwright, the director and the venue, together with the names of important attendees or the sponsoring shaykh or (more rarely) shaykha. There was no plot summary, no commentary on setting or content or relationships between characters, not the glimmer of a suggestion of what the performance had been about. No engagement with the play’s relevance to contemporary society.

Then, finally, I found this: Nehad’s reflections on the 2009 Gulf Theatre Festival. Here, at last, like spring water in the desert, was actual, substantive, pull-no-punches criticism of Gulf theatre productions.

Reading it you’ll immediately notice that she was not one to mince words. She describes the 10th festival as a ‘pale, emaciated copy and a faint, sorrowful echo’ of the first one, held in 1988. The productions were ‘modest to mediocre,’ the accompanying scholarly roundtable ‘shrunk and regionally self-enclosed.’ Yet she extends to all of the roundtable scholars the courtesy of actively engaging with the ideas they presented, praising one who ‘fiercely argued’ against artistic censorship by religious authorities in Bahrain, and extensively citing another’s exploration of the damaging effects on Gulf theatre of various unofficial forms of censorship.

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