While it is incredibly callous to give ‘Ramy – In the frontline’ anything as reductive as a star rating, the nature of this industry forces me to do so, and I honestly couldn’t give it anything less than a full rating. This piece (a round-the-world effort, the excellent company From Start to Finnish backing Ramy Essam, an Egyptian protest singer) is beyond review, it is the truthful story of the 2011 Egyptian revolution, told by a man who was at the centre of it. Essam is a man who has been tortured to near death, had a friend take a bullet for him and die, and who knows full well how likely it is he will soon die: ‘Ramy’ is not so much a Fringe show, but rather an experience that is obligatory viewing.
The format of ‘Ramy’ is incredibly simple: over the course of 75 minutes, he tells us his story mostly through monologue, occasionally interrupted by mixed media. The media used serves to show how much Essam loves and hopes for his country. He and his frequently referenced technician, Nora, show us ‘Ramy’s Egypt’ through a fish-eye lens that displays iPod pictures of his family, his own sketch of a map of Egypt, and a birds-eye view of the protest lines represented with coins and pebbles. Important dates are projected, written in a scribbled font, and the performance is interspersed with video clips – some of hopeful protestors, some of horrific instances of police brutality (I would warn that this show could easily disturb those affected by this). Essam also, of course, takes a few instances to sing us the protest songs that he wrote during the revolution. They are stunning, and his voice incredible; even in Arabic, the performances were incredibly moving.
My only potential critique of the piece is also easily its greatest strength. As Essam told us about his frankly horrific experiences (one particularly brutal moment was simply a video clip of his mutilated body after torture at the hands of the Egyptian army), I couldn’t help but feel how out of place this was in a slightly-too-warm lecture theatre, with a room full of Fringe-goers mm-ing, tapping their feet to the music, and snuggling up to their partners. And yet, should we not be disturbing our (ultimately comfortable) lives with exactly this kind of performance? I personally don’t know.
On the night I saw the show, there was an Egyptian man watching – whom I don’t think Essam knew already. When the show ended, this man almost ran down the stairs of the lecture theatre, where the two greeted each other like old friends, tears in their eyes as they hugged. If the show had not already convinced me of Essam’s gifts then this would have – his ability not only for hope, but for inspiring it in others, is extraordinary.