In The Eyes of Heaven Ruud Gielens, Rachid Benzine & Hiam Abbass

In the Eyes of Heaven is a monologue written by Rachid Benzine, directed by Ruud Gielens and performed by Hiam Abbass, that interweaves the developments in Arab politics of the last forty years with the position of women in contemporary Arab society.

To look into the eyes of heaven is to look in the eyes of a woman who you would pay to possess for a few minutes or a few hours in the privacy of a room, away from the gaze of strangers, but rarely to love. A woman who in this world is immersed in the immense loneliness left behind by a fate that pursued her far too early and far too violently, and from which she wants to protect her own daughter.

It is her words that she directs at the powerless heavens, sometimes whispering, sometimes howling. Words that express the secrets, the fury and the disillusionment of a woman who has already been battered by life and who suddenly, at the start of the Arab spring, sees her fragile hope of a new life collapse along with the regime. In this period of waiting, between a yesterday that is lost and a tomorrow that’s a long time coming, she sits, at once unyielding, funny and fragile, amid the bustle of an Arab street populated by the shadows of wanderers and of the dying.

text Rachid Benzine | directed by Ruud Gielens | with Hiam Abbass | dramaturgy Laila Soliman | production Kaaitheater & Moussem | co-production C-Mine cultuurcentrum Genk

PRESS

Ruud Gielens: "I think Rachid [Benzine]'s text gives a Western audience an insight into a world that it only knows from the media and for which it otherwise has to rely on its own imagination." - AGENDA
Rachid Benzine: “In my view, Noor is also a metaphor for the Arab world: everyone makes use of her, everyone misuses her. She bears a tragic destiny on her shoulders, but she stands her ground to the bitter end. And she has her comical sides; she can be ironic and laughs at herself a lot.” - DE MORGEN
Hiam Abbass: “Sometimes people are contradictory when it comes to their believes. I’m also faced with my own contradictions with religion.” - AL.ARTE
Ruud Gielens: “But I think you have to be able to shock a little. History is made by the accumulation of little moments such as that.” - LE SOIR
“Lucid, modern, never preachy, the text liberates a Muslim voice which, without in any way disavowing its North African roots, casts a critical eye over its society, religion and the position of women in the Maghreb and the Mashreq. … A blessing more than a blasphemy, ‘In the Eyes of Heaven’ must absolutely do the rounds of the theatres.” - LE SOIR

LE SOIR | 26-28 March 2016

« Allah is great, but how slow he is! »

Ruud Gielens directs ‘In the Eyes of Heaven’, a daring and lucid text

I will admit it, I almost missed seeing ‘In the Eyes of Heaven’ by Rachid Benzine. Because the play was only performed for two days at the Kaaitheater and, what with the tragic events, my mind was elsewhere. A good intuition and a few pointers – an author with enlightened comments in these pages, a renowned actress – steered us before this breathtaking monologue on Thursday evening. A piece of bravura which proves that the theatre is in full working order to shed light on this Muslim culture which more than ever is petrifying us. Lucid, modern, never preachy, the text liberates a Muslim voice which, without in any way disavowing its North African roots, casts a critical eye over its society, religion and the position of women in the Maghreb and the Mashreq. Of course, Belgian stages have for some time now been accommodating autobiographical tales by artists from immigrant communities. That is all for the good and it is necessary that this continues, but ‘In the Eyes of Heaven’ places itself at the very heart of the sacred, touches upon taboo subjects, without nevertheless looking to provoke and go as far as a Roméo Castellucci. As the author himself advocates, it is this type of unblinkered look which could lead the Muslim religious landscape to evolve.

A prostitute and a Muslim, Nour does not forget to perform her ablutions in between each client

Adapted from a short story by the French Islamologist and directed by Ruud Gielens, the play carries the voice of a prostitute in a North African country at the time of the Arab spring. For an hour the Arab-Israeli artist Hiam Abbass immerses us in her daily life, over the course of clients of every hue, from the local Governor to the religious leader, their prominence in no way denting their private perversions. This woman recounts and remembers her mother, also a prostitute, and their life journey and the male violence which led them to such a situation. There is no pathos here. A few traces of humour even punctuate the tale, no matter that the whole is hard to take in.

Nour talks to us about the revolution underway, one in which her gay friend, Slimane, believes wholeheartedly, about demonstrations being suppressed, about the violence of the crowd, which is not found wanting in comparison with that of the regime’s thugs, and about the fundamentalists who will quickly replace the ruling powers. Like Nour, the tale knows men all too well to be naïve about the tragic outcome of revolutions. A regular visitor to Cairo, the Belgian Ruud Gielens has been a witness to the cruel pendulum of History, for these men and women who scarcely have any choice between dictatorships on the one hand, and on the other fundamentalist movements (a tragic lack of alternative which is today ravaging Syria). Between Scylla and Charybdis, the defenders of liberty such as Nour and Slimane are too often the expiatory victims.

A prostitute and a Muslim, Nour does not forget to perform her ablutions in between each client. To see her kneeling down to pray to Allah is in itself a striking image. But to hear her castigate Him and reproach Him her ‘shitty life’ (notably by shouting ‘Allah is great, but how slow he is!’) would be a form of provocation, if these words, far from being gratuitous, did not have a tragic sense within this wrecked destiny. A blessing more than a blasphemy, ‘In the Eyes of Heaven’ must absolutely do the rounds of the theatres. Theatre programme planners and directors take note.

CATHERINE MAKEREEL | translated by Eriks Uskalis

BIOGRAPHIES

HIAM ABBASS

The monologue is performed by Hiam Abbas, the Israeli-Palestinian actress who has both Arab and European feature films to her credit, as well as a series of Hollywood productions. She has acted among others in Munich (2005) by Steven Spielberg, Paradise Now (2005) and Lemon Tree (2008). She also works as a film director and has made among others Le Pain (2001), La Danse Éternelle (2004) and Inheritance (2012).

RACHID BENZINE

Rachid Benzine was commissioned by Kaaitheater to write this theatre text. As a political scientist and Islam expert, he has taught at various universities in Belgium and France. He is the author of Les nouveaux penseurs de l’islam (2004) and Le Coran expliqué aux jeunes (2013). Benzine is known for his advocacy of a critical and modern Islam, and in recent years has been a noteworthy voice in both the French and Dutch language media.

RUUD GIELENS

Ruud Gielens is a theatre maker who lives/works in Brussels and Cairo. He co-founded Union Suspecte and was associated for a long time with the KVS. Last season he made the monumental production (WaanVlucht! / FuirLaFolie !) [FleeTheFrenzy!] in and around Kaaitheater, together with the Brussels Brecht-Eisler Choir.

Together with his partner – theatre maker Laila Soliman – he closely lived and followed the Arab Spring, and watched an Egyptian revolution slide into a military dictatorship. As a reply to this, in 2011 they made Lessons in Revolting. Last season, Laila Soliman staged her own production Whims of Freedom at the Kaaistudios.

Although I’m often in Cairo, I continue to occupy an outsider’s position. In the Eyes of Heaven offers the opportunity to bring insight into a difficult matter and to build a bridge between what is happening there and our view of things.” - R. Gielens in Moussem Journa(a)l no. 6, January 2016

VIDEO

TOUR DATES

  • 23, 24, 25 August: Noorderzon, Groningen (The Netherlands)
  • 20 Oktober: Gorki Theater, Berlin (Germany)
  • 4 November: C-Mine, Genk (Belgium)
  • 15 November: Kaaitheater, Brussels (Belgium)
  • 18-19 November: Journées Théâtrales de Carthage, Tunis (Tunisia)

CONTACT

Cees Vossen | MOUSSEM - Performing Arts Programme & Production | c/o Bozar, Ravensteinstraat 18, 1000 Brussels (Belgium) | M +32 484 927 372

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