RIYADH: The curtain has risen on an ambitious new era for Saudi theater — and its future looks bright, if the launch of the National Theater Initiative at the King Fahd Cultural Center on Tuesday night is any indication.
The evening’s entertainment began with a speech from Minister of Culture Prince Abdullah bin Farhan, in which he offered his thanks for the “unprecedented” level of support for the theatrical arts the ministry has received, especially from King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman.
“The theater is the father of arts, and we have great expectations regarding the future of the art of theater in Saudi Arabia,” he said. “We want Saudi Arabia to be a leader in the field.”
Abdulaziz Ismail, president of the National Theater Initiative, highlighted the importance of theater in Saudi culture and said that the new scheme represents a great step forward for the art form.
“Our culture will be reborn through this historic moment,” he said. “We are going to express our culture through our theater.”
The event continued with the first staging of the musical play “Daraish Al-Nour” (Windows of Light). Written by poet Saleh Zamanan and directed by Fatees Baqna, it features a cast of local actors including Naif Khalaf, Khaled Saqr and Ibrahim Al-Hassawi.
The play explores Saudi culture, past and present, and includes a number of pop-culture and historical references that older audiences in particular will appreciate. The music evokes feelings of nostalgia without seeming overly dated, and even the style of directing recalls and pays tribute to the glory days of Saudi theater.
The cast perform their roles beautifully, and if the audience’s reaction on Tuesday night was anything to go by, they made a great impression. Applause, cheers and whistles rang out through the theater at the end of every act, whether the scene on stage was a cheerful, traditional Saudi dance, or a more intense, dramatic scene full of angst.
Lovers of Arabic theater, and especially of old Saudi plays, will delight in this spectacular first offering from the theater initiative. The stage of the King Fahd Cultural Center is used to its absolute fullest potential, with light, sound, color and space all perfectly employed.
The script balances humor and lightheartedness with bittersweet and even tragic moments. One scene features a wedding celebration that is interrupted by the once-terrifying religious police, who storm into the celebration and, in a shocking moment, destroy an oud.
But even before they saw the play, many people were already moved by the promise of the evening and what it represents as another step in the resurgence of art and culture in the Kingdom, and the wider development of the country.
Bader Al-Zahrani immediately volunteered to be an organizer for the initiative when he read about it on Twitter.
“I think it’s a wonderful initiative from the Ministry of Culture,” he said. “Seeing the adverts on Twitter, I knew that this play was something I definitely wanted to see. I want to thank the ministry for this great initiative.”
There is a second performance of “Daraish Al-Nour” at 8 p.m. tonight, and free tickets are available from www.moc.gov.sa.
Theater is one of one of 16 areas in which the ministry is working to preserve and advance Saudi culture. The theater initiative aims to provide Saudi directors, playwrights and actors with a high-quality integrated system that will offer better opportunities and improve standards of quality.