x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Freej set for theatrical debut

The popular animated cartoon series will come to life in Dubai with more than 100 performers, 300 production staff and a six-metre tall genie.

DUBAI // Freej, the popular Arabic animated cartoon series, will come to life in Dubai in the Middle East's biggest-ever theatrical production with more than 100 performers, 300 production staff and a six-metre tall genie. Um Saeed, Um Allawi, Um Saloom and Um Khammas, four grandmothers living in a secluded neighbourhood in Dubai, will travel through time exploring the Arab world in the past, present and future.

Entitled Freej Folklore, the first UAE-based production of its type will take the audience to the roots of Arab history, exploring legends, literature, scientific discoveries and historical events. After 14 months of planning and rehearsal the theatrical tableau fusing fantasy and reality will be performed 19 times from Jan 8-17 at the Madinat Jumeirah Arena as an official Dubai Shopping Festival event. There will be 11 shows in Arabic and eight in English.

The 90-minute production will present a combination of music, film, live performances, animation, special effects and technical choreography that its creator believes will match Cirque du Soleil in sophistication and expression. "Although we haven't signed the papers for it, I expect the show to be a permanent fixture on Dubai's calendar," said Mohammed Saeed Harib, the creator of the TV series and founder of Lammtara, the production company.

"We are just starting with Freej as a brand, and we would like to take this production on the road to the Middle East, and eventually Broadway," said Mr Harib, whose 3D animated television series has run for two years. "Every country you go to has a show that stamps out its identity, this show will do just the same for the UAE." He said UAE-based productions would help encourage young people to participate more in cultural and artistic events and take up creative hobbies.

"It is a great feeling to say we can do it. When I started with Freej as an animated cartoon there wasn't much backing but now, the feeling has changed and people are less apprehensive and believe that here in the UAE we can have a creative industry that has the backing of the Ministry of Culture," said Mr Harib. The stage will be 41 metres wide and seven metres high, with multilayered projection for 13 screens. Seven 40-metre wide panoramic screens and six screens measuring 11 by eight metres will show the adventures of Um Saeed, Um Allawi, Um Saloom and Um Khammas as they interact as holograms with live performers. In one of the 16 scenes, a giant genie will confront the grandmothers.

"Holograms that interact between live cast and sounds will give the illusion of a real, live performance," said Benjamin Monie, the show's executive producer. The show is sponsored by Nakheel, the property developer. Performers will be predominantly French but will include Emirati artists and performers. Saeed al Naboudah, a spokesman for the Ministry of Culture, welcomed the production. "We will always back such projects that further enhance our image and encourage youth participation in the fields of arts and culture," he said at yesterday's launch.

The animated television series Freej is in its third season. A team of 500 people in three countries work on the series, which focuses on celebrating the culture and traditions of the UAE through the eyes of the four grandmothers. The first season shown in September 2006 was considered a cultural phenomenon and won enthusiastic reviews. It was voted the most popular show by UAE viewers in its second season, and the first episode of its latest season had the highest number of viewers of any UAE show.

shafez@thenational.ae