“The discreet charm of power” premieres at Dramaten on January 26. The performance is performed in Arabic, Swedish and English and subtitled in those languages as well.
Ahmed El Attar is responsible for idea, story and direction.
Co-author is Felicia Ohly, playwright and dramaturg, who, among other things, did the comedy show “Why doesn’t anyone love the lesbians” at Malmö city theater.
He is one of Egypt’s most noted directors and playwrights. Usually it takes Ahmed El Attar between six months and a year to make a play – but at Dramaten, the process has been compressed to three months. In November, he came to Sweden with two of about thirty scenes written.
— The story is like a carpet that I weave in the meantime. It’s anxiety for the actors, because they don’t know where they’re going and neither do I at first. I know what the story looks like but not how it should be told, says Ahmed El Attar.
One of the reasons why he accepted is his great trust in theater director Mattias Andersson, whom he has followed for a long time.
— And then there is the Dramaten, one of the largest theaters in northern Europe. So it’s great fun to work in such a place, he says.
About rich families
“The discreet charm of power” is about a Syrian woman and a Swedish man who fall in love. Their two well-to-do families meet for the first time when the couple get married. Both families are skeptical at first – until they realize they share a passion for money. Ahmed El Attar often writes about rich families. He doesn’t come from such a background himself but has gone to private school and married into a wealthy family.
— So I have lived with such people all my life, he states.
The family’s mutual power relations is a theme he constantly returns to. It also reflects people’s perception of and relationship to power, he believes.
— In totalitarian regimes where the father figure is the one with power, it is what people reproduce in relation to political power. And that interests me.
He says he doesn’t do political theater – but admits there is a lot of politics in his plays. At the same time, the political system in Egypt has prevented free expression for the past 30 years, according to El Attar, which makes it difficult to work with theater there. Economically, the situation has also become much worse after the 2011 revolution.
— Covid didn’t help either. In many countries there was support for the theatre, but in our country and in other Arab countries there was nothing. People changed professions and left the theater.
Think they are more
Ahmed El Attar himself is an important cultural force in Egypt, he runs an independent theater, organizes the country’s largest festival for contemporary art and has started a digital platform to spread contemporary Arab theater. Now the theater scene in Egypt is growing again, but one of the problems is that the country lacks an ecosystem for the performing arts, he emphasizes.
— You don’t make money with theatre. You spend a lot without getting anything back — or what you get is the value that the theater brings to society.
Ahmed El Attar himself is satisfied that the play mixes cultures and languages but without directly dealing with racism or refugee issues. Those topics are certainly important, he underlines, but believes that we need more images than what is seen on the news.
— It is always good to open up more horizons in our conversations and not just focus on one topic. There are many aspects of life and relationships that people don’t know about each other and that can change our perceptions.
He also opposes the idea that some cultures are more valuable and gets “very concerned” when people believe they are superior to others, because of things like culture, religion or skin color. When asked if both families in the play think they are more, he chuckles.
– Of course. Everyone thinks that it is the others who are bad. It is important to realize that we always think the other person is racist or prejudiced. But we all have that.
Prejudices and clichés
It was perhaps most challenging for Ahmed El Attar to portray the Swedish family and he wrote the dialogue with playwright Felicia Ohly. At the same time, he states that it is not a social study he is doing.
— It’s about clichés. Because you have prejudices based on clichés, not based on who people really are. People think that Arabs are terrorists, ignorant and violent and that Swedes are cold and arrogant. The usual nonsense, he says, smiling.