Farheen Khan is the writer of EAT Dubai – an hour-long play that sits the audience with the cast across a dinner table. She explains how the immersive theatrical experience aims to turn cultural stereotypes on their heads
Angry Bairds is a production company based in London, which showcased immersive theatre with a production called EAT, which was very well received in the UK. I’m based in Dubai and I thought it would work really well over here. Alongside my sister, a co-founder of EAT, we totally re-wrote the script to resonate with audiences in Dubai.
With EAT we wanted a production that audiences could be fully immersed in, and to encourage interaction between the audience and the actors. So when the audiences are eating their meal, it becomes an experience that both the actors and the audience can be part of – one which they can relate and respond to.
We knew that we wanted to present an immersive dinner where the audience would attend as guests and where culture would form part of the script. As we auditioned different people, we found and added them to the play, so it was quite an organic and natural process.
We wanted to cover cultural stereotyping – presenting audiences with a stereotype that everyone is familiar with, then flipping it on its head. With the character Kim, audiences automatically assume she’s a gold-digger, who’s only interested in finding a rich husband. But the end of the play reveals her as a widow, who only likes Ferraris because her 10-year old son has an obsession with them and that actually, she is a well-educated woman who owns her own business and speaks seven languages.
The great thing about immersive theatre is that it allows you to be an observer and a participant at the same time. So you get to observe the theatre happening right in front of you, as well as interact. And as an audience member you can choose to participate as much or as little as you want.
Every night is different; sometimes we get audiences who are super chatty, and other times not so much. One funny performance was when a small child didn’t realise it was a performance and kept running up to the actors on stage saying things like ‘look at this’, ‘this is my mummy’. So that was a really fun night. The actors ran with it, they played with him and made it part of the performance.
Humour is great for tackling cultural stereotypes. In EAT Ali the stand-up comedian says: ‘It’s important for cultures to be able to laugh at themselves as a sign of progress.' I really think that’s important.
The play covers some hard-hitting issues, and humour helps to soften the message. We didn’t want the play to be too serious, hence why we added characters such as Ali, the stand-up comedian, who can instantly lighten the mood with a bad joke that has the audience in stitches.
We felt Dubai was ready to soak up new experiences. So much of the emirate is already committed to being an art space, and it’s a wonderful time to try new things. I think the next few years are going to be very interesting for Dubai.