On The Mother of Kamal by Dina Ibrahim (Hen and Chickens Theatre, August 11-13, 2023)


Cared for by the Camden Fringe The Mother of Kamal finds safe haven
In The Hen and Chickens; curator and coop for new plays
That push past the fringe to present the forehead of thought

And the forefront of vital words in small spaces; such intimacy
Forms a way to contain both chaos and care as Dina Ibrahim’s
Play hour commences. Based on her grandparents’ story,

As a working class Jewish family in Iraq
Who faced an unholy choice between survival and state punishment
In 1948 and the 50s, when Ibrahim’s Grandmother Reina,

(the eponymous Um-Kamal) is attacked
In both the hearth and heart as her two teenage sons
Are arrested. The feared Secret Police’s suspicions

Of Communist allegiance abound. Reina visits and implores
Masud Aslani (the Chief of Police), played by a strident
Tiran Aakel and is afforded a Sophie’s choice, a la Styron,

Where she must choose from her children, sacrificing Sasson,
The younger, so that Kamal may train as a Doctor
And for some hold on hope to be found.

From this emotive evisceration faith thrives
In both memory and invective. The play’s form is filmic
As Ibrahim cuts between scenes, moving from each baby’s

Birth to Sasson’s later struggle; and thus, the split spirit
Flickers, as Poor Theatre techniques attain sheen.
The stage is primed by suitcases and stools.

A typewriter transforms into soundtrack.
Exposition as luggage is lightened through this into song.
The Arabic cast multiply as roles are exchanged

Behind curtains; Nalan Burgess in particular impresses
As she moves from child to old woman, and barber, her vivacity
Granting music to the aspirations in art; The stage throngs

With a crowd made from five as Selwa Jghaelf’s heartfelt
Um-Kamal soothes survival. Her quietness is a challenge
As the roar of fate turns fear on. While Nicolas Gauci’s Kamal

Is wrent from the wretchedness of his brother, in time
Offering his assistance for Allah as he strives to redeem
Such deep wrongs. The Mother of Kamal in its plight

Is a pilgrim’s progress of sorts, in which religion itself
Provides context. The true motivation is love’s blood
And oil in the heart. As the writer director

Beautifully honours the age of her antecedents,
Adapting her father’s private memoir into the format
Of what should be public art. Theatre of confession

And care. A theatre of the soul to sustain us.
A theatre so simple it strips each lesson in life
To the bone. For this is a compact piece. A symphony

Of survival so that even those locked in prisons
Need not feel so alone. The cast commune and create
Character in an instant. Manav Chaudhuri moves

From officious policeman to cockney and as a typing drummer
His presence provides dignity, As does Joe Haddad’s Sasson,
knowing his fate, gnawing horror while Jghaelf’s eyes

Dare the darkness as they shine and show what will be.
The Mother of Kamal is no play. It is instead the heart’s music.
It beats to the rhythms of what it is that ghosts gain;

Some deeper impression. A print first on the skin,
Then within us. It is an oratorio of origins and reveals
In its hour the profundity within pain. Its cast is committed.

Its crew, from Ibrahim as Writer Director producer,
To Movement Director and Set Designers Stephen Freeman,
And Katie Coyne, to Jennifer Lewis’s costumes,

And Eddie McGuire’s original music too chorus
The ways in which victims in hurt and health duly join.
The play arrives in time with the anniversary of the invasion

Of Iraq and so touches the darker forces around us
And within us too. We are cast not just by fate
But by the fools who have governed

And who have done so unwisely on both sides
Of the past. May they feel Time’s full shame, as well as blame
For the struggles for which Dina Ibrahim’s heart song

Is singing; Truth shining for us, within a pub theatre’s
Pretence. The Mother of Kamal plays tonight. And also tomorrow.
It is love in light. Dare the darkness and you will see

How man’s darkness will in exposure
                                        Finally have

                                        No defence.


                                                         David Erdos 11/8/23


THE CAST (alphabetical order)
Tiran Aakel: Actor 2, as Masud Aslani (Chief of Police) | Heskel | Abu-Kamal | El-Hadidy | Magistrate | Wahid
Nalân Burgess: Actor 1, as Leyla | Rosette | Barber | Halima | Old Woman | Simran
Manav Chaudhuri: Actor 2, as Police Officer | Mahmood | Scribe | Mohammad | Marcus Dronsfield
Nicholas Gauci: Kamal
Joe Haddad: Sasson
Selwa Jghaelf: Um-Kamal
Writer & director: Dina Ibrahim
Movement director | Stage manager | Set design:Stephen Freeman 
Technical | Costume | Set design: Katie Coyne
Costume: Jennifer Lewis
Casting and VO recordings: Marianne Sheehan
Production assistant: Croia McDermott
PRESS RELEASE: Middle eastern politics, exile, & family history explored in new Camden Fringe play The Mother of Kamal
Dina Ibrahim is a North London drama teacher and writer. She is descended from the ancient Jewish communities of Iraq. Her new one-hour play The Mother of Kamal is based on her father’s family memoir novel Um-Kamal (‘mother of Kamal’ in Arabic). It takes us to the heart of her family history from a working-class Jewish community in Baghdad in the turmoil of 1950s pre-revolutionary Iraq up to the present day diaspora through the eyes of her grandmother ‘Reina’ (the eponymous Um-Kamal). Writing on the recently re-explored history of the Jews of Iraq and Baghdad seems to focus on the wealthier, upper echelons of Jewish society, but this play untypically locates itself firmly within a working-class Jewish community, living and struggling side by side with their poor Muslim neighbours and with a strong focus on the role of women in making this punishing, increasingly totalitarian environment survivable.
In the play, it is 1948 in the slums of Baghdad. Amid a spate of arrests and arbitrary public executions, a working-class Jewish mother, Um-Kamal, finds her two sons arrested by the feared and loathed Secret Police. Inexplicably, the younger brother, Sasson, gets imprisoned, while Kamal, the older, is set free. Rumour and intrigue ensue, and Um-Kamal is reluctantly drawn into the orbit and underground activity of the Communist Party, risking all to save her teenage sons, hold her fragmenting family together and, 50 years later, discover the truth of what really happened that night in the cells in Baghdad amid conflicting family narratives and histories.
Writer and director Dina Ibrahim says: “The impact of my dad’s novel on him and his wider family has been remarkable. It was incredibly important to me that my play would do justice to his vision and to the immense strength, courage and creativity of the working class Jewish women of the Middle East in guiding their families through the most tumultuous and dangerous times.”
With music specially composed by renowned award-winning composer Eddie McGuire, the play blends traditional narrative drama with elements drawn from classical, physical and ensemble theatre, withbeautiful lyrical passages of staging that merge with acutely observed vignettes of social satire and human relations.
Timely in coinciding with the 20th anniversary of the invasion Iraq, The Mother of Kamal is a powerful, poignant, yet warmly humorous and subtly satirical play about a historical family struggle for justice and truth in the face of exile and a cynical, politicised intolerance – themes which sadly resonate as loudly today, both personally and globally. It is part of the Camden Fringe 2023.
“Fascinating and insightful” Emile Cohen, Chronicler of the history of Jews in 20th Century Iraq

The Mother of Kamal 10-13 August, Hen and Chickens Theatre, Highbury Corner, London N1 2NA7:30pm,  £13.50/£10.50
Tickets: https://camdenfringe.com/events/the-mother-of-kamal/
Twitter: mother_of_kamal
Instagram: themotherofkamal
Camden Fringe: The Mother of Kamal | Unrestricted View : The Hen & Chickens Theatre


Complimentary tickets available on request. Please reply to this email stating desired date of attendance and number of tickets.

Sample poster, graphics and images of the author – hi res images and more images available on request. 

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