Beirut Adrenaline – Lisa Chats with Anna Jahjah. (Theatre interview)

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Beirut Adrenaline starts at Belvoir downstairs on July 27. It is directed by Anah Jahjah and presented by Théâtre Excentrique as part of their committment to bringing thrilling theatre to Sydney stages that encourages us to examine opposites see the world around us from a variety of perspectives. Beirut Adrenaline will be staged in English for the first time. Check out the blurb on it below:

It’s 1986 – The Daher family is separated by the war in Lebanon. Zyad and his sister Mona escape to Paris, while their brother Marwan is stuck in Beirut. He kills time on his balcony, chatting with his new neighbours. There is no electricity, hardly any water, checkpoints everywhere and yes, the occasional bombing and killing. Yet life goes on, alongside the hopes and dreams that make it all bearable.

Alternating between Paris and Beirut, between the Western world and the Orient, the play is a powerful insight into the Lebanese conflict and, indeed, into how all of us as humans deal with tragedy.

I was lucky enough to be able to ask Anna some of the questions that came up in my mind when I was thikning about how such a powerful play will impact Sydney audiences. If you want to see Beirut Adrenaline, tickets are now on sale here. The play runs at Belvoir from 27 July to 14 August, but read on to find what Anna had to say about the production and about life in a war torn nation.

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LT: Tell us a little about Beirut Adrenaline

AJ: Beirut Adrenaline is the story of a family torn apart by the civil war in Lebanon in 1986. Zyad and his sister Mona escape to Paris, while their brother Marwan is stuck in Beirut and chats with his neighbours to kill time. The play constantly alternates between Paris and Beirut to show various perspectives on the war: from naive French girl Sophie who has no idea about the war, to Toufic who wants to enrol in the militia to protect this sister, to Rima, who tries to forget by drinking too much to Zyad, who tries to analyse the conflict from a historical point of view, the viewpoints expressed on the Lebanese conflict are as varied as the characters – some accept it, some ignore it, some live it, some imagine it.

LT: Much of the literature involving post-apocalyptic landscapes imagines society breaking down and people turning on each other. And yet Beirut Adrenaline (and indeed many war stories) tell us people continue to live their lives and somehow forge a stronger identity in desperate times. Where do you think the drive for hope comes from in the face of disaster? How does Beirut Adrenaline contradict this idea of the breakdown of society?

AJ: From my modest point of view, I would say that post-apocalyptic literature is based on a pessimistic view of the world where hope is not an option. But humans have this thing engraved in them, which is their salvation and their curse: they have hope. Hope that things will get better. In Arabic countries there is also this notion of fate, the Que Sera Sera kind of idea.  It’s in God’s hands, nothing we can do about it.

As one of the characters in the play puts it: “this war is not going to last forever.” So he runs on his balcony every day to train for the 400 m…

It can seem absurd, or a way to survive.

Also, when people live in war for a long time, it becomes part of their lives, they know nothing else, so they just work around it. I know that feeling, because I lived in Lebanon during the war. It becomes part of life.

LT:What have been the most exciting aspects of bringing Beirut Adrenaline to Sydney?

I would say sharing my experience in Lebanon with the actors and brainstorming together about the links between the past and the present. It was also very moving to feel the interest of the Australians, especially the Australians from a Lebanese background and their enthusiasm in sharing part of their story with others.

LT: How does Beirut Adrenaline explain war to a culture that has never had a war on its land?

AJ: I think Beirut Adrenaline shows the war only from the civilians side, which helps identification. The characters dress and talk like Westerners, they have the same tastes, watch the World Cup like half of the planet, go dancing, drink, have fun. This gives an idea of “it could be me”. Also, the audience can identify with the character of Sophie, who dates a Lebanese boy but has no idea about the war and asks naïve questions all the time. She is the key to the play I would say. Finally, the authors do something very clever by reversing stereotypes. For example, when Toufic the young brother is sent to France, his sister prepares a bag full of clothes, because “how can you be sure there are washing machines in France?” I love that!

LT: What advantages does small independent theatre bring to the audiences for international plays?

AJ: I would say freedom to choose the plays we want to put on and how to stage them!

Independent theatre = freedom! I love that. Thanks Anna.

Catch Beirut Adrenaline at The Belvoir theatre form July 27 to August 14. You can grab your tickets here.

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