A review of ‘Head Over Heels in Saudi Arabia’
Many of us heard via social media about the play Head Over Heels in Saudi Arabia being performed at the Effat University. Our very own Anousha Vakani was lucky to win tickets and attend the performance. She pens down her thoughts and reviews Head Over Heels in Saudi Arabia exclusively for Jeddah Blog.
When I first heard about Maisah Sobaihi’s solo performance Head Over Heels in Saudi Arabia over a year ago, I was just as surprised as everyone else to hear that such live entertainment exists here for, and most importantly BY women. I was looking forward to attending the October 2012 performance and luckily enough none of my expectations were disappointed as the play was every bit as witty and poignant as previous reviews and promos promised.
Also worth mentioning is that I happened to win one out of three giveaway tickets from Alaa Balkhy’s blog, so a shout-out of appreciation is due to Alaa Balkhy, her blog and her designs at Fyunka for being the cherry on top of a wonderful evening.
October 2012 introduced the first ever Arabic performance of Head Over Heels in Saudi Arabia. However, as I don’t speak Arabic, I attended the English performance at Effat University on the 9th of October. The English performance was peppered with just the right amount of Arabic words and phrases to add to the hilarity and Arab flavour of the play.
Head Over Heels in Saudi Arabia is a satirical performance based on the private lives of Saudi women. As if pulling off a show that dances with almost dangerous grace around such a theme isn’t an extraordinary feat on its own, Maisah Sobaihi also plays the role of writer, director and sole actor of her performance. This one-woman show is the perfect blend between a play and stand-up comedy, and Ms. Sobaihi switches with fluid ease from playing the different characters and narrating the scenes unfolding before her audience.
The curtain rises to the sound of music and a striking first impression as the stage is divided into three sets, each designed as per the classic Arabian tastes of colour and lavishness. Dressed in red and black, Maisah Sobaihi begins her performance with an introduction on how she “fell in love in Saudi Arabia” against all odds. Right from the very beginning Ms. Sobaihi is engaged in a conversation with her audience; an audience that relates to her story and to the stories of Maryam and Laylah.
She introduces the character of Maryam as a wife and mother of two who finds out through the grapevine that her husband has taken a second wife. Ms. Sobaihi then takes over the plush seats of the central set and as Maryam, has a rather comic conversation with her husband who hints at an interest in taking a second wife. She initially laughs off his ridiculous reasoning of being overcome with a sense of social responsibility towards the single and divorced women of Saudi society. She retorts that if he has indeed been “struck by the cupid of social responsibility” there are a number of projects he can undertake instead, cleaning up the litter on the Corniche being only one of her many spirited suggestions.
Maryam’s husband then has an official wedding and Ms. Sobaihi attends it as Maryam’s spy but due to the characteristically loud music of Saudi weddings can’t understand whether wife number two is “a teacher or a preacher.”
In keeping with the light-hearted mood of the play, Maryam’s outbursts of rage combined with her incredible wit are comical for the most part, but a hush resonates in the audience as her husband’s betrayal becomes more apparent and they watch her heart break on stage.
Laylah, who is introduced in-between Maryam’s story and Ms. Sobaihi’s riveting commentary on the social issues unfolding before us, is also a mother but a divorcee of seven years. Laylah is a loud and lovable personality, and while she has a job and comes off as generally independent, she admits to being lonely. When Laylah takes the stage she is casually lounging on a chair smoking hookah and trying to convince Ms. Sobaihi to dive into a Misyar marriage. The audience is drawn into a hilarious one-sided banter as Laylah counters every one of Ms. Sobaihi’s arguments against Misyar marriages.
Ms. Sobaihi then moves to the center of the stage to comment on the conversation that has just taken place. She explains that after her divorce, her friends and family tried to convince her to remarry, but she remained convinced that ‘you can’t hurry love’. At this point she breaks out into a song and invites the audience to join in.
Apart from love, marriage and conventionality, Ms. Sobaihi touches lightly on other issues including transportation. She portrays the dependency of Saudi women on their drivers as she calls Mohammad at three in the morning overcome by a sweet-tooth craving for chocolates from Danube.
She also talks about the Saudi obsession with gossip, retorting through Maryam that in this society people go out of their way to “make sure you know exactly what you don’t want to know.”
The stories of Maryam and Laylah take pretty predictable turns but the combination of Ms. Sobaihi’s flawless acting and commentary make for an overall touching and perceptive performance. Right before curtain fall, Ms. Sobaihi returns to the topic of the love of her own life and brings in a surprise which makes for a perfectly appropriate ending.
Head Over Heels in Saudi Arabia is a comical insight and a very artistic representation of social issues pertaining to Saudi society and a definite must-watch. If you happened to miss it this October stay tuned to Maisah Sobaihi’s official website, Facebook and Twitter pages for updates on upcoming performances.