Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 1 October 2020

Stage is set for ‘Broken Wings’ to tell story of love in Lebanon

We take a closer look at the play based on the life of poet Khalil Gibran

'Broken Wings’ tells the story of Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran’s first love. ​​​​​
'Broken Wings’ tells the story of Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran’s first love. ​​​​​

Khalil Gibran is one of Lebanon’s greatest exports. His works, touching on universal and spiritual aspects, have been translated into more than 100 languages, making him one of the bestselling poets of all time. The author of The Prophet has been quoted at funerals and weddings, on motivational posters and even in articles about parenting. But besides being an acclaimed poet, author and artist, who was Gibran the man? That’s the question Broken Wings tries to answer.

The play, based on Gibran’s poetic novel of the same name, will be performed at Dubai Opera this weekend.

It opens with an older Gibran (played by British-Lebanese playwright Nadim Naaman) sitting in his New York office reminiscing about the tragic love story he experienced at 18 years old, while living in Lebanon. The young Gibran (Benjamin Purkiss) falls in love with Selma Karamy (Hannah Qureshi), who is set to marry the nephew of a prominent bishop.

At the age of 40 and nearing the end of his life, Gibran sits in his New York office, reminiscing about a tragic love affair he had as an 18 year old in Lebanon. 
Playwright and actor Nadim Naaman plays an older Gibran in the play.

“The process of adapting the book to the stage was one of the most fun parts,” Naaman tells The National. “The book has a lot of ingredients that make it suitable for the stage.”

Gibran, who died in 1931, wrote the novel almost like a journal in which he addresses his reader. Its short chapters are easily visualised like scenes, each with a specific time and place. Naaman says this gave him the idea to present the story as a musical.

If you listen to it, I don’t think you’ll realise the music was by two different composers. We’re very proud of that, it made us more confident about collaborating again.

Nadim Naaman

“By having the iconic man himself on the stage, it makes the audience aware that this is effectively a true story,” he says. “It’s him remembering his first love.”

Realising there were ­effectively two timelines in the story, Naaman and co-­writer Dana Al Fardan divided the music into two parts. He composed music for the cold, dark scenes set in New York, while Al Fardan took on the scenes in Lebanon that highlight the romance and warmth of the Mediterranean. “We thought it’d be cool to have two composers, two styles weaved together in the story,” he says.

Although it was a challenge bringing togther two different musical styles, Naaman says he found the experience exciting. “Our orchestrator, Joe Davison, who will join us again for our Dubai performance, took the two styles and created one sound for Broken Wings,” Naaman says. “If you listen to it, I don’t think you’ll realise the music was by two different composers. We’re very proud of that, it made us more confident about collaborating again.”

Broken Wings was previously performed in London’s West End, making its debut in August 2018. The West End was where Naaman made his career and it felt surreal to return to the space to put on a play he wrote.

“But the main reason it was so memorable is because we had a considerable Middle Eastern turnout, which is special for the West End,” he says.

For Naaman, Broken Wings is also about representation. He wanted to produce a real Middle Eastern story but in the style of a western musical, bringing the story to a wider audience. “If you’re a Middle Easterner growing up in the United States or the United Kingdom, the only representation on stage is Aladdin, which is fictitious,” he says. “Agrabah is not a real place.”

He says playing the older Gibran was also a daunting task. “Whenever you have a person this iconic, people tend to have a conception in their minds of how they see him. Middle Easterners are very proud of Gibran and they see him a certain way. The first thing you have to accept is how you’re always going to have people who are like ‘that’s not my idea of Gibran’.

With Gibran facing difficulties in his life, it’s a wonder he managed to retain a positive outlook. He was 12 when he emigrated with his mother to the US, seeking a new life after his father was jailed for ­embezzlement in Lebanon.

“The family lost all their money and were forced to leave Lebanon,” Naaman says. “After Gibran returned to Lebanon at 18, he falls in love with a woman he can’t be with. Ultimately he goes back to the United States and loses his mother and two siblings to illness. He never really found personal happiness, yet he always sought to teach the world how to be happy and at peace.”

Naaman says a lot of people in the Middle East shy away from acknowledging the darker aspects of Gibran’s life. His excessive drinking, Naaman says, ultimately led to the poet’s death. “He died from cirrhosis of the liver,” Naaman says. “Although he was 48 when he died, he had the body of a 70-year-old.”

Naaman says he altered the musical when he took it to Lebanon.

“We did some trips to Lebanon, doing research and meeting with various theatre organisations and festivals. We managed to make our shows in Lebanon shorter and snappier, as we didn’t have to provide explanation on who Gibran is.”

Now in its third year, the show will be given its debut in the UAE.

The cast has been rehearsing at the Sharjah Performing Arts Academy and has conducted workshops and Q&A sessions with students.

Naaman says he has high hopes for the future of theatre in the region as there’s an evident demand for shows, which could pave the way for more theatres to be built in the UAE. “We want to help generate the interest,” he says.

Talks have begun over taking the play to other parts of the Middle East and Europe.

Broken Wings will be performed at Dubai Opera Friday and Saturday, January 17 and 18. Tickets from Dh295 are available at www.dubaiopera.com

Updated: January 15, 2020 09:18 PM

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