Before the Revolution review, Edinburgh Fringe: Ahmed El Attar’s play remains highly evocative

With the Edinburgh International and Fringe festivals drawing to a close over the weekend, and the 2019 awards in the process of being dished out, it seems an impossible task to pick just a few stand-out shows from amid the festivals’ extensive programme. Yet the cream is rising to the top; for example, playwright Kieran Hurley’s stunning discussion on class and appropriation in the arts, Mouthpiece, won the Carol Tambor Award, and will now transfer to New York, while Caroline Horton’s All of Me won this year’s Mental Health Fringe Award.

At Summerhall, meanwhile, the venue selects its own favourite productions with the Lustrum Awards for “Great Festival Moments”. While their exceptional programme suggests this might be an impossible task, this year the winners included among their number the intriguing Before the Revolution, a piece about the Egyptian revolution which has already been seen in Switzerland, France, Belgium and Cairo, where it caused predictable controversy and drew calls for a ban. This run in Edinburgh was its UK debut.

Ahmed El Attar’s play, although short by Edinburgh standards at 40 minutes, is framed with such intensity that it feels like any more would be too exhausting on the nerves. Performers Ramsi Lehner and Nanda Mohammed, dressed all in white, stand amid a bed of nails with holes just large enough for their feet, frozen amid a state of violent inevitability.

With great pace and urgency – Hassan Khan’s lit fuse of a soundtrack is instrumental in this – they recount vignettes from the two decades leading up to the revolution of 2011; of assassinations and abductions spoken of with news report sterility, slices of Cairo family life where life is gotten on with but tongues must be kept in check, and local colour including radio reports and the cheering of the Zamalek football crowd. There is some inevitable viewing disruption due to the rapid pace of the supertitle translation, but the sense of a city as keg loading with powder over the years remains highly evocative.

At Summerhall, Edinburgh.

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