Sydney Festival: Radio Muezzin

19 January 2012

Be transported to Cairo in this unique aural and visual experience.
Be transported to Cairo in this unique aural and visual experience.

The stage of the Seymour Centre is carpeted in maroon and gold like a mosque. Fans turn overhead. Four large screens form the backdrop of the set, at times showing individual films, at others operating as a unified and giant panorama of the noisy streets of Cairo.

This is a performance of Radio Muezzin, a reconstruction of the lives of four men, or muezzins, who have the job of singing the daily call to prayer through the loudspeakers of mosques in Cairo.

For one hour and 20 minutes as an audience member I am transported to Egypt by this unique visual and aural multimedia experience. Anyone who has travelled to a Muslim country will have memories instantly revived by this documentary-style theatrical piece that is at once witty, moving and ingenious.

Cairo is known as the city of a thousand mosques, but in recent years the Egyptian authorities have announced they will be replacing the live singing of muezzins with a centralised radio recording.

Subtitled in English, the four non-actors on stage address the audience in Arabic, telling the story of their lives and family, and what it means to them to be replaced by technology.

The first, a blind muezzin, sings the hypnotic revery, "God is great, God is greater", before telling us, and showing us on the video screens, his family photographs and his pathway to becoming a muezzin.

The second muezzin is a former tank driver, the third an electrician, the fourth a bodybuilder. Each takes turns in describing his life as a muezzin with photographs and imagery and song.

With the recent Egyptian revolution still a hot topic around the globe, Radio Muezzin has grown in topicality and relevance for an audience keen for experiences of a culturally different kind.

Radio Muezzin celebrates the personal touch. It was first performed in Berlin where loud calls to prayer are prohibited and the show is a culturally knowing and technologically astute production that is thought provoking in its ambivalence. At once it venerates the living human voice and derides the replacing of the muezzins by technology, but paradoxically gains so much in its own staging and use of audiovisual media.

This is just one of the curiosities of a sometimes perplexing but unique and informative performance.

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