By: Yahya Hassan – Sudanow
KHARTOUM (Sudanow) – On the stage they talk like ordinary people engaged in a conversation: Nothing of the overacting that drew back Sudanese drama for generations.
On the stage they live up to their name: Alasdiqa (friends). And that is what attracts their big audiences to their works and often obliges the troupe to continue replaying a certain drama on the theatre for months, years in some cases.
For over three decades now, the Alasdiqa Theatre Troupe has been entertaining the public that usually keeps laughing until the end curtains are down.
It is joy blended with purpose, always turning an issue of public concern into laughter, thunderous laughter. Their themes range from consumer shortages, to electricity outings, transport problems, decaying civil service and, of course, politics.
They started their drama shows as casual friends merrymaking with each other and still continue to do so. On the stage they keep their real names: Mohammad Naeem Sa’ad, Jamal Abdelrahman, Faisal Ahmed Sa’ad, Tayeb Sha’arawe etc… That is the intimacy which endears them to the public. No acting and no overacting…quite casual and natural.
However they seem to overact in media interviews, perhaps to appear serious about their art and dissipate the impression one might get that this is just a purposeless group of men and women.
“The troupe is a family; a family working together as one and this working relationship has now morphed into marriages among some of its male and female members who now have children, sons and daughters,” said the troupe leader Mohammad Naeem Sa’ad, one of the troupe’s early founders and also one of its directors and script writers.
And this intimacy and harmony among the troupe members is perhaps behind their striking successes and has perhaps guarded the team against the usual breakups among such arts groups.
That is on the stage. On the TV and radio the fun they present is no less. The most outstanding here is their serial shows Mata’eb (Troubles), in which a weekly theme was presented. The themes ranged from the daily life woes of trying to find enough benzene, cooking gas, cheap sugar, cooking oil, easy transport; and also the supernatural, superstition to be specific. In the latter case, a piece they presented about a claimed haunted house was the most popular because of the suspense it contained and the human weaknesses it displayed.
They are educated. All of them are graduates of the faculty of drama, the Sudan University For Science and Technology. And this has helped them with a close follow up of the innovations in the International theatre movement.
One of the troupe’s script writers, Mustafa Ahmed Alkhalifa, is a convincing example of this: well versed in new drama techniques and themes. This has helped him with a lot of good ideas.
Troupe member, Dr. Faisal Ahmed Sa’ad has fought his way from a secondary role player on the stage, to become Dean of the Faculty of Drama at the Sudan University of Science and Technology.
But the troupe is not without complaints. Troupe member Abdelmone’m Osman draws a gloomy picture of the present and future of drama in Sudan in the absence of any government financial or moral support to this art. This causes the group to stop working quite often. “The bitter reality of the situation in Sudan often obliges us to stop or do roles with other drama groups,” he said.
“And this has forced many creative individuals to leave the country and look for greener pastures elsewhere,” he added.
In this regard Osman also points an accusing finger at the national TV which he said “instead of boosting local drama production, it spends a lot of money buying Turkish and Mexican TV serials.”
“Funding is the basis of drama production as without money the artist cannot live or create,” he said.
Osman has also complained from the scarcity of convincing scripts.
Despite these glooms, the Alasdiqa’a Troupe has presented a lot of masterpieces on the stage. Some of these are:
1) Almuharrij (The Clown)
This is a Sudanized edition of Syrian playwright Mohammad Almaghoot’s play, with the same name. Its general theme is a criticism of the false boundaries created by the colonial rulers to separate nations formerly united by the bonds of blood and culture.
The play criticizes the idea of customs and passports in a highly captivating comedy that makes interesting flashbacks to what happened in the past (when there were no official boundaries) and the present (when these boundaries complicate the life of people).
Alasdiqa’a troupe had continued to replay this work on stage for some three years, always getting a packed theatre.
2) Alnizam Yureed (The Regime Wants)
This a sarcastic imitation of the Arab Spring when people of some Arab states rose up and toppled some of their dictatorial rulers. Instead of the popular slogan ‘the people want to change the regime’; here it is the dictator who wants to change his people in order to continue to rule them. To accomplish this, the dictator summons his advisors and asks them to show him examples of people who may never raise an opposing finger at their ruler. The idea is to ship his people to similar countries where they are trained to be obedient and busy with things other than politics. The advisors screen for him images of peoples from the east and west of the world to choose from. All of this is dramatized in an entertaining and amusing show.
But this absurd idea of trying to change his people did not help the dictator who was doomed and forced down.
The play has continued to be played for over two years in Khartoum, because of the novelty and madness of its idea.
It was also presented outside the country.
3) Malaf Sirry (Secret Dossier)
This is about a group of persons trying to escape from their dark present. That is the general theme of the play.
This is Alasdiqa’s most recent play. It has already been staged in Khartoum, Omdurman, Port Sudan and Doha (Qatar) .
Events of the play take place at a home for the elders where three men and a woman live. Because of the suffering they face due to their life of seclusion in the home for the elders, their memories suddenly awaken, taking each of them to his/her past. Here they start to compare their past to what happens at the present time with its declining values and the deterioration that inflicted all aspects of life.
Script writer Awad Alemam (publicly known as Awad Shakespeare) says he has chosen the elders home to draw public attention to this category.
“Collective action is required to help these miserable people,” he says.
“These people have lost trace of their sons and their relatives and all what remained for them is their brothers in humanity who share with them their ordeal inside the home for the elders,” he says.
Upset by the corruption inside the elders home, the four of them decide to challenge the situation on their own. Here the home administration applies medical sedatives on them to keep them calm.
The play presents the life history of each of these characters and the conditions that had lead each of them to this home for the elders. This is meant to show the harshness of the society, the falsity of its values and the decaying social bonds as a result of corruption that eroded the social institutions.
Stereotypes In A Collective Framework
Like what happens in any theatrical group, the Alasdiqa theatre Troupe does not go without stereotyping.
Uncle Kabsoor, played by Dr. Faisal Ahmed Sa’ad, is an example of a person in life who believes can reform the world. Uncle Kabsoor everyday leaves his home looking for problems to solve. And when he sees something wrong, he hurries to correct it. This always leads him into lots of trouble. He can find himself in a police station, a hospital’s emergency section or he may unnecessarily receive a beating.
Troupe member Mohammad Almahdi Alfadni is another example of such stereotypes. His flexible body and the way he bends and moves his limbs gives one the feeling that he was born without bones. And that is part of his amusing art.
Troupe member Tayeb Sha’arai is a true embodiment of how a timid person can look like. His face, his hands and his stammers and stutters all of them show how a timid person can look like. And when he goes amok for fear of something, his show of timidity is at its climax.
But according to some critics, the Alasdiqa’s stereotyping is still kept within a collective framework. For one, drama critic Hassan Ahmed Alyasa’a is of the view that the Alasdiqa stereotypes, though very conspicuous on the stage, do not in any way affect the overall collectiveness of the rest of the team.