You Bury Me is ‘a love letter to Cairo, to Egypt, to the revolution and everyone who fought for it’, and masterfully portrays this through the raw experiences of six teenagers, fighting to grow up in a city being torn down in the aftermath of the Arab Spring.
This winner of The Women’s Prize for Playwriting 2020 is an illustration of teenage life amid the angst and terror associated with a new military dictatorship. It follows a motley crew of teenagers who, while not all directly friends, are inextricably intertwined with one another, as they navigate to manoeuvre through their formative years in a visually stimulating and darkly comedic performance.
The attempts at coming to terms with sexuality and ideology create a dichotomy with the intense societal changes happening in Cairo in 2015, with the words ‘Cairo will push you to your absolute limits… you’re in love and you’re entangled and you’re stuck’ being particularly poignant, and providing a lens through which to view the characters, and their entrapment in a society which seems to reject them.
The play is set roughly over the course of two years in a continuous, unfolding narrative with no interval allowing the viewer to be transported, uninterrupted, into the streets of Cairo.
Aimable character Rafik is something of a tumbleweed having graduated with a degree but little hope of employment. As a homosexual, he is navigating the world of Grindr dates but mysteriously, or perhaps not so mysteriously, disappears three quarters of the way through the performance, never to return, adding a very real and dangerous undertone to the story, and grounding the watcher within the aftermath of the Arab Spring. Similarly, the play introduces a coming-of-age exploration between Lina and Maya in which they discover the true meaning of sexuality and gender together.
However, the main story that runs throughout is between Alia and Tamer – a Romeo and Juliet-esque trope of love across political and religious divides. Their relationship is explored comedically through first kisses and sexual encounters, yet their lives are hurled into empathetic reality when they attempt to flee from Cairo in a dingy due to the forces acting against them. The last we see of them is the pair walking slowly upstage, being enveloped into darkness, like Rafik, never to be seen again.
In the final scene the stage is divided by three large bollards that that have ‘fallen’ from the roof of the stage. Behind these physical barriers are the lost, Rafik, Tamer and Alia, while in front stands Lina and Maya, happily in love, and the intensely troubled Osman, once a friend of Rafik, who blames himself for his disappearance and cannot come to terms with his own political ideology.
Ahlam dedicates You Bury Me to ‘Cairo, and all those who (are cursed enough to) love her’. Pledge your allegiance to a generation emerging in a landscape you didn’t have to, and, for 1 hour and 40 minutes, live and breathe in the seventh character of this play, Cairo.
You Bury Me, Ahlam – Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, 7 March – 18 March
Images by Pamela Raith provided via Press Release