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Review: 'You Bury Me' at Bristol Old Vic

Jordana Seal reviews 'You Bury Me' at Bristol Old Vic, describing it as a 'heart-breaking love letter to Cairo.'

By Jordana Seal, Third Year English and Theatre

Ahlam, co-winner of the inaugural Women’s prize for You Bury Me, described the play as a ‘love letter to Cairo, the city, and its people.’ This is certainly the sentiment the audience are left with after following the lives of six young Egyptians attempting to navigate love, sex and friendship while living under military regime.

A heart-breaking love letter to Cairo, expressed through the coming of age of six young Egyptians.

The play takes place in 2015, four years after the revolution in Tahir Square, and Cairo is both the setting and the narrator; acting as a reminder that the events are often forgotten.

The dark undertones of the performance are complimented by the three core storylines which are permeated with comedy, awkward romance, and meaningful friendship, all united by the promise of eventual revolution.

Courtesy of Pamela Raith

Alia and Tamer’s storyline is rooted in the idea of forbidden love. However, the awkward dialogue surrounding sex, an unchartered territory, adds a sense of familiarity and humour unique to the experience of first love.

The audience are also thrown into the upbeat, rapid lives of high school students Lina and Maya. The actresses’ brilliant use of physical comedy thrusts the audience back into their own teenage experiences of navigating parties, alcohol and sex. I must mention the standout performance by Yasemin Özdemir; her vivacious portrayal of Maya stands as a funny and powerful symbol of youth rebellion.

Courtesy of Pamela Raith

In my opinion, the saddest storyline is that of Osman, a journalist, and Rafik, who has recently moved in with him after being thrown out by his family due to his sexuality. This storyline is filled with fear - the fear they have for each other and the fear they evoke in the audience out of their joint unawareness of the risk of their personal actions.

The fragmented storylines show us a glimpse of these characters lives that feel real and are extremely vulnerable. And the cast’s perfect chemistry creates an atmosphere that encourages the audience to feel the emotions of the characters constantly and share their joy during relatable moments.

Courtesy of Pamela Raith

One of the most notable elements of the performance was the transitions between the storylines. They were comprised of ensemble work that used physical theatre to bring the city to life on stage. These moments were complimented by the music which flickered between Western and Arabic songs. This helped to represent how the emergence of different cultures influenced the characters and Cairo.

The lighting was minimal, but the set stood out. In particular the boulders, which hung above the stage. Each boulder was hand-painted with little scenes that seemed to reflect the spirit of each of the characters. I interpreted the boulders as a representation of joy and fear.

Courtesy of Pamela Raith

I would certainly recommend going to see You Bury Me, which is running at Bristol Old Vic until the 4th of March. The play was thought provoking and left me wanting to know even more about the intricacies of the characters. I felt elated by the promise of a brighter future and while also wondering whether these characters exist, as they felt so real. The one thing I can guarantee is that you will leave the theatre and immediately want to read about the history of Cairo.

You can buy tickets here.

Featured Image: Courtesy of Pamela Raith

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