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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 23 January 2019

EAT Dubai offers a tasty immersive experience

We sit down to an Emirati dinner with local actors during a one-hour play that is as interesting and thought-provoking as it is fun.
Guests at Eat Dubai share dinner with five actors, during which they are treated to an hour-long theatre performance. Reem Mohammed / The National
Guests at Eat Dubai share dinner with five actors, during which they are treated to an hour-long theatre performance. Reem Mohammed / The National

If you’ve ever been to a dinner party where a few minutes in you realise that a handful of guests are going to be doing most of the talking, then the immersive play EAT Dubai will take you right back to that setting.

The theatre experience, brought to Dubai by the London-based Angry Bairds in cooperation with local actors and a production crew, revolves around a dinner party with Emirati food, “hosted” by a British couple at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding. The motley crew includes a Lebanese, a Filipino, an Emirati and everyone else in the audience, giving viewers the choice to join in. The reason for the party: to bring people of different cultures together. The reason for the play: to address cultural prejudices.

It begins with 20 expat guests gathering in a waiting room before being escorted by the host, Emma, dressed in an abaya and shayla, into a traditional Emirati majlis. We sit on floor cushions around platters of food. And the interactions begin.

It doesn’t take long to get a handle on the characters. Emma is a British woman who loves Emirati culture more than her own. Her husband Dave is so British he can’t stop talking about chips and curry. Kim, a single mum to 10-year-old Hadith, thinks the party is the perfect opportunity to promote her recently established party-planning business. An outspoken, attractive Lebanese woman, she is looking for a man, preferably one with a Ferrari.

Ali is an Emirati who wants to be a stand-up comedian but doesn’t want to invite his mother to his shows, fearing she might be disappointed. And there’s Bruce, the “waiter” who walks around singing, name-dropping Filipino stars and chattering about music, movies and his favourite actress Meryl Streep.

The dinner-party format brings out the best snide remarks imaginable, with Kim and Bruce moving around to make their asides, a good dose of funny moments and plenty of interruptions, particularly from Emma, who is trying hard to keep the conversation “impersonal” while constantly bickering with her husband.

The beauty of such immersive theatre lies, in part, with the audience, and at this sitting we are all having a good time, reacting spontaneously when Ali tries to woo Kim with his Porsche, or when Kim tells us how someone other than her needs to clear her plate after she’s done eating, or when Dave tells a joke: what do you call something that’s brown and sticky? A stick.

There’s also a fair bit of spontaneity, whether it’s Kim complimenting an audience member’s jewellery and fashion sense, or Ali explaining the lack of crispy pita on the fatoush as an Emirati twist on the Lebanese dish.

The play, meant to be an opportunity to address cultural stereotypes, does a good job of flipping around the evident with the unexpected. Kim, while not as polished as Emma, can speak seven languages. Emma, who seems pretentious and comes across as a control freak, can be spontaneous. The event highlights how quick we are in rushing to judgement and serves as a reminder to be more open-minded.

Throw in a few last-minute revelations and the experience makes for an engaging evening, one that will have you thinking about the characters’ traits and your own inclinations – whether you voiced them at dinner or not.

What was on the table at Emma’s dinner party:

Starters:

• Arabian coffee and dates

Main course:

• Chicken biryani with lentils mixed with seasoned rice (pictured).

• Hammour machboos – fish biryani.

• Chicken salona – vegetables and tender pieces of chicken in a flavourful brown sauce.

• Vegetable threed – a mild vegetable stew cooked with lentils and pasta. The stew is ladled on to bread, which is similar to pita.

• Veal harees – shredded wheat, minced veal and mild spices are whipped together with ghee to form a thick, savoury porridge.

• Fatoush – Anyone looking for the Lebanese staple must leave their presumptions at the door. This fatoush had no crispy pita, sumac or dressing. It was a basic salad with vibrant greens and reds.

Dessert:

• Lugaimat – deep-fried dough balls eaten with date syrup drizzled over it, which get their boost from the syrup. Of everything served, dessert seemed to be the biggest unknown and, hence, had everyone talking and commenting on what they thought of it.

• And, lastly, black tea – what Emirati meal would be complete without it?

• EAT Dubai has space for 25 audience members each night until January 22 at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding, Bur Dubai. Tickets, including dinner, cost Dh277 at www.eventbrite.co.uk. Visit www.angrybairds.com for more details

kramgopal@thenational.ae

Updated: January 17, 2015 04:00 AM

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