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‘Oliver!’ to come to life in Arabic in Amman next week

By Muath Freij - Aug 26,2015 - Last updated at Aug 26,2015

AMMAN — Internationally acclaimed West End musical “Oliver!” premieres in Arabic in Amman next week, bringing Jordanian and Syrian children together on one stage, organisers said Wednesday.

The play, written in English by Lionel Bart based on Charles Dickens’ “Oliver Twist”, will be performed at Amman’s Royal Cultural Centre between September 1 and September 3, having been adapted to fit modern Arab society, according to Charlotte Eagar, co-founder of Refuge Drama Productions.

Instead of taking place in London, the musical will be set in a contemporary unnamed Arab city.

“Adapting the play to the modern Arab world was the idea of [Egyptian actor and director] Khaled Abol Naga because the Arab world has many similarities with the social conditions Charles Dickens was writing about,” the award-winning filmmaker told The Jordan Times.

She recalled that they were asked about a year ago to design a project to involve children in music and drama in Jordan, and it took them four days to come up with the idea 

“We’ve been doing drama therapy for two years here and the key thing is to choose a play [with which] the children or the people who are doing it can identify,” added Eagar, who previously co-produced Syria Trojan Women in Amman.  

She said they thought of Oliver Twist because he is a young boy, an orphan who has lost his place in the world and is struggling to find somewhere to belong, and afterwards he has a happy ending. 

“We ran workshops three times a week for six weeks.”

Abol Naga, the director of the show, said the idea was not a play about tragedies and poverty, but to change the outlook of society towards children from seeing them as a burden to a source of pride. 

“Amman is the first city that hosts waves of refugees in the region. The choice of Oliver was perfect for me because it is about a child who has a natural sense of his rights to eat properly and not being insulted,” the Egyptian producer told reporters.

Zeinab Mobarak, who was in charge of adapting the play into Arabic, said she has been adapting Disney songs into Arabic for 18 years.

“I usually listen to these songs and remember it well and then I write the context of the songs. The song has a psychological and artistic context,” she added. 

Reem Sayyah, the project coordinator, said the play targets refugee children in Jordan. 

“We trained the children for the play and we conducted several sessions that included drama therapy for a total of 100 children, and then we selected the children who can sing. We started the training in April and it concluded on May 2,” she told The Jordan Times.

The drama and music workshops were held over five months for Syrian and Jordanian children from underprivileged backgrounds, according to Refuge Drama Productions’ website.

Sayyah noted that the play is good for children because they feel that they are doing something “important”.  

 

The play will be presented in cooperation with the Culture Ministry, and admission is free.

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