Casablanca - The Sequel
Playwright Deirdre Heddon took a play to Morocco and won Casablanca over with a sex scene. Here she recalls her trip.
Casablanca doesn’t hold many attractions for the tourist. Anyone expecting the exotic will be sorely disappointed. An industrial city with a population of 5 million it is much like any other city. with the added attraction
beach and the sun. But Casablanca is extremely interesting in its juxtaposition between the developed and the developing. Huge hotels. banks on every corner. advanced infrastructures. shops selling the latest Western European fashions; yet still men and women dressed in traditional fukias. horses and carts and a city which is highly labour-intensive. Partly modemised but still having a long way to go technologically. it may be the sociologist's dream. but not the holidaymakers
Thankfully we weren't holidaymakers. A writer. a director and a cast of two. we were representing Scotland as Theatre Off The Fence in a festival with 500 participants. 24 countries (only five of which were European) and 32 shows. A wealth of cultural variety. Traditionally discouraged by the Muslim religion and censored by the French authorities until independence in l956. theatre in Morocco is a relatively recent phenomenon. But the large number of new theatres that have been built in the city bear testament to its increasing popularity. Lacking any forth of theatrical tradition. the local shows are rough and tumble. merging farce. melodrama and comedy — to amuse an audience equally unconstrained by convention. A tough crowd to please — adept at walking in and out of the auditorium banging every door on the way. talking. clapping. shouting and adding their own impromptu dialogue in an attempt to upstage the performers.
We were given a get-in time of only three hours. untrained technicians who were reluctant to let women do any ’men’s work'. and a set which bore a hideous resemblance to Blake's Seven. There is a much-used phrase in Casablanca — ‘Pas de probleme‘ —
which roughly translated means. ‘lt's a big problem. but we'll say that it isn‘t.’ Having been unable to transport our own set. we had been assured that our request for three mirrors would be ‘Pas de probleme’. The end result ~ one mirror and two pieces of hardboard covered frantically in tin foil. Add to this a feminist play in linglish fora largely Muslim audience who spoke only Arabic or French. and we were worried.
Unduly. ()ur enacted sex scene won them over. In a country where kissing on stage is forbidden (as it is in public). this was the height of riskiness — and was received with a mix of shock and ecstatic cheering. liqually. the sheer passion of our actors captured the attention; compared to the Moroccan style this was ‘serious‘ acting. The pair became stars overnight. You can never be sure of an audience's appreciation of a text. especially when that audience speaks a different language. as I found out when a critic asked why I had chosen to write a play about adultery. The piece. SCREAM! is the story of one woman delving into her past to discover her true identity ~ an identity freed from social constraints and pressures where a woman can exist as herself. While the play does explore issues such as adolescent sexual rituals. anorexia. rape and violence. at no point does it mention marriage — never mind adultery. Ultimately. the understanding of the piece seemed irrelevant. The production was placed third. and we picked up a trophy for Best Actress. Forget feminism — sex breaks down the cultural barriers.
Charging traditional horsemen: a the
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The other fourteen days were filled with ‘Moroccan lixperiences‘ —- dancing the nights away to Shaman trance musicians. at huge fiesta to celebrate the birth of the prophet Mohammed. a traditional wedding ceremony. communal cous cous dishes. a trip South to the more touristy town of Marrakech followed by a hike in the Atlas mountains. Turkish baths. and the
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continuous activity of bartering with tradesmen before buying anything. and then buying too mttch to bring back to Scodand.
Raised in a culture where ‘partying' is largely synonymous with drinking copious quantities of alcohol. the Scottish contingent were anxious to know how fourteen evenings could be fun-filled in a country where alcohol is forbidden. As white Europeans it is possible to buy lager in a few cafes — but the warmth and expense of the purchase negates the desire. And the rumours are true — there is plenty of Moroccan hashish which can be found without too much exertion — or so we were told. However. the atmosphere of the festival itself was enough to ensure a good time. '
If it's experiences that you seek. you won’t have to look very hard for them. If it‘s a relaxing time. Morocco is a place to be avoided. As part of a large festival we probably saw more than the average tourist. We also had the added advantage of becoming good friends with some local organisers who acted as our guides. guardians and mentors. Without them. I'm sure things would have been much more of a ‘grande probleme‘.
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The List 23 April—6 May 1993 85