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
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