Working Method at the Gate Theatre
“What is the reason for making art?” Iraqi-Belgian theatre producer Enkidu Khaled asks his audience. Part lecture, part performance piece and experimental interactive show incorporating Khaled’s harrowing experiences during the 2003 war in Iraq, the production also provides some simple methods for creating theatrical pieces.
Our host plays a recording of a traditional Arabic song by celebrated Iraqi Jewish singer, Filfel Gourjy. Though subtitles are not provided, it is an opportunity to emerge oneself in the acoustics of a foreign language. The theatre-maker is unafraid of self-deprecation, saying to his audience, “if you’re bored, you know where the door is.” Khaled discusses his creative methods, involving observing everyday environments depicted through drawings and word associations, to creating a sentence using the limited text.
Instructing people close their eyes and think of a memory, the artist remarks how this is his favourite moment of the show, appreciating the sea of peaceful faces. Four volunteers then approach the front; two of the individuals draw from their own memories, while the other pair take examples from the audience, all using Khaled’s technique. This section of the show is amusing, particularly for spectators enjoying the efforts to capture the essence of the drawings with reduced words. One of the two helpers is coincidentally a theatre-maker herself, this becoming evident when she talks about her work in a confident and assertive manner. Khaled himself is good-humoured, and a natural presence, able to talk through difficult moments in his life and ease through the varying changes in tone – though sometimes there is not enough personal space between the artist and audience members.
Things take a viscerally surreal turn when we see the artist’s face submerged by a carved-out watermelon, as he sightlessly cuts out pieces, fleshy juicy pink-red fragments scattering everywhere, procuring nervous laughter from the audience, who try to avoid the watery mess. It seems a little disconnected, but if a guess was to be made, this reflects Khaled’s horrifying experiences in war-torn Iraq, which he fled in 2008. The show may be of high value to those in the theatre-making scene, but there are some bored attendees, and at an adult ticket price of £24, it seems a little excessive; while many have lauded the show, and it has won the Big in Belgium prize, it misses a beat for this reviewer.
However, to answer the question proposed earlier on, the following quote by American actress Stella Adler is fitting as an answer: “Life beats down and crushes the soul, and art reminds you that you have one.”
Working Method is at the Gate Theatre from 11th July until 13th July 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.