Fresh from the holidays, we’re all familiar with dinner-table dramatics amongst friends and family. Starting January 14, the five-person play Eat Dubai will take it even further.
The immersive show runs until January 22 and takes place at a majlis at the Shaikh Mohammad Centre for Cultural Understanding. There, attendees can indulge in a three-course traditional Emirati meal while the story unfolds around them.
“The audience aren’t sitting in seats watching a performance, they’re actually sitting amongst the actors, so there’s the element of surprise — you don’t know who’s an actor and who’s an audience [member], you don’t know who’s going to betray you and start talking all of a sudden,” said co-creator Nazish Khan, who is based out of the UK.
After premiering in London in August under the title Eat London, the play has been reinvented with a Dubai audience in mind. Castings occurred locally in October, and rehearsals have been ongoing for the past two months. The resulting 55-minute performance takes cultural stereotypes and flips them on their heads by delving deeper into characters that seem predictable at first.
“If you see somebody in a Ferrari with big sunglasses and loud music, already you’ve made a judgement and an association [about them]. So we sort of took that with five characters: an Emirati character, a Lebanese girl, a Filipino, and then, a British married couple,” said Khan.
In the play, the Lebanese woman is obsessed with marrying a man with a Ferrari, the Filipino works as a waiter, and the British wife is known to make constant remarks to her husband, explained Khan.
“These are characters that everybody recognises, but as the play goes on, you find out more and more about them. It also questions us about how we first judge people, and how they interact with each other,” she said.
Khan’s creative partner, Sophie Foster — with whom she operates London-based theatre company Angry Bairds — and Khan’s UAE-based sister, Farheen, all helped write the play. Nina Hein and Thabit Al Mawaly, an Emirati YouTuber, joined forces as co-directors.
“You can’t write in a vacuum when you’re trying to incorporate lots of different cultures,” said Khan of the collaboration.
Al Mawaly, best known as an online personality, helped craft the show into a more authentic one.
“You have a lot of people that come to the Emirates and live here for as long as they remember, and they’ve never actually had Emirati food, they’ve never met an Emirati. I find it to be very shocking. For me, the most interesting thing is that the audience gets to be a part of that,” he said.