Witness the growing cultural scene of the UAE. Plenty of music, a good deal of art and film and yet not much theatre. But there is happy news. This weekend The Dubai Drama Group is running three nights of brief, one-act plays all of which have been written, acted out, produced and directed by UAE residents. Called New Developments, the three-night run has arisen for two main reasons. Partly, it is in celebration of the group's 25th anniversary this month. "We thought it would be a good idea to get the community involved because we've always done shows by established writers, we've never really done anything original" explains Abishek Reddy, the group's chairman.
But significantly, it's also indicative of the group's new drive to boost membership figures and its finances after both suffering in recent years. Reddy calls it "turning over a new leaf". Fellow committee member George Stothard, who helped develop the concept of the competition and who is also directing one of the eight plays, says it is because they wanted to do something special. "The group has, over the years, become quite expat-centric and we instinctively felt it was time to change how we do things and reach out."
Having launched a writing competition earlier this year which called for one-act "shorts" at the beginning of October, eight winners were picked by the group's committee from over 20 entries (including one overall winner). "Our criteria was that it should be a one-act play of between 15 and 20 minutes long, with no more than five characters and about life in the UAE," says Reddy. Stothard was another of those responsible for selecting the winning entries, and says he was impressed by the "very high" calibre of them all. "That has to be a sign that we touched a nerve - there must be an appetite for relevant local theatre."
Financial support was lent by the public relations firm Impact Porter Novelli and the offer of a venue came from The Jam Jar gallery, offers for which Reddy says he is enormously grateful. "Because they're one-act shows, we thought doing it in a studio space would be ideal," he adds of the gallery space. Auditions were held, both among members and outside the group; directors and assistant-directors were assigned their plays; rehearsals began.
The overall winner of the writing competition, entitled The Fine Art of Journalism, is the play that will close each evening. Written by a British journalist named Sam Potter, it is set in Dubai's International airport and depicts a chance meeting between a drunk journalist from London and an Emirati national. Stothard is directing the play. "To be able to direct something that is relevant, challenging and also very funny in parts is very compelling to me," he says.
The remaining seven plays come from writers of various nationalities, including Indian, Scottish and one Canadian-Iranian. Among them, Sian Nixon's Calling Home will be a familiar theme for many, showing a girl calling home to her parents and trying to explain the city. This Place, by Mustafa Alrawi, is about the relationship between a successful banker and his wife in harder times. Another Day, Another Dirham, written by Alison Schofield and Francesca McGeary, explores the relationship between four Arab women and a new, female American member of staff as the quartet try to explain to her how to attract a man. Among the writers, Hajer Abdulsalam Almosleh (the author of Rani, about a meeting of two women in a hair salon) is the only one to also be acting in one of the works, with a role in Another Day, Another Dirham as one of the Arab women.
"What is interesting about all the plays is that they reflect life in the UAE from the serious to the lighthearted," says Reddy proudly. "While there is much comedy, the evening explores some of the economic challenges that people may have faced during the recession -from the richest businessmen right down to those in service industries and construction workers." Topical viewing for everyone, then.
New Developments will run tonight, tomorrow and Saturday evening at 7.30pm at the Jam Jat gallery in Dubai. A donation of Dh75 is suggested. For more details see www.dubaidramagroup.com.