What happens when that gentle brush of familiarity you feel as you rush past neighbours and on to your own busy life suddenly becomes a gale you are stranded in? All the preconceived notions that you wear like a favourite tailored coat can turn into a stifling straightjacket. You are forced to confront the use of such a heavy garment.
It is just such an event that the play JLT, or Just Like That, delves into. When four strangers and neighbours in Dubai - an Emirati writer, a British businessman, a European entrepreneur, a Lebanese airhostess, a south-Indian security guard, and an Indian or Pakistani Investment Banker – find themselves stuck in an elevator in JLT, they are forced to reckon with their own biases, their own limitations.
This production is in its third run – the last two were sold out – but promises a fresh telling. “With half a different cast, and an adaptable script, this production is completely different. Each actor brings their own uniqueness to a production and it’s my job to get the best out of them. Even though the script remains largely the same with a few updates, it’s a different product each time I direct it,” explains the director, Priyanka Johri.
The coronavirus question
It won’t feature COVID-19, but the show was definitely impacted by it. “The pandemic has definitely made the rehearsal process a lot more extensive. I tried to break up the rehearsals as much as I could so that the cast was divided to maintain social distancing as not everyone on the cast showed up on the same day. This is a much longer process and a mammoth task to achieve as well since the entire cast would have met only a couple of weeks before show. The idea of incorporating COVID-19 into the script did across my mind but I realised that JLT is a comic relief, the perfect escape that people need right now during these difficult times,” she says.
And yet, even while you laugh, promise the cast and crew, you will be contemplative after. “NEVER judge a book by its cover. We always have preconceived notions about people who are different from us, which sub-consciously or consciously creates stereotypes in our brains. However, once we get to know the “others”, we realise they are more similar than different,” says Asad Raza Khan, who has written, co-produced and is acting in the play. (Streaming platform Viu is a co-producer.)
Actor Eric Dury speaks of the importance of unity. “Allied to that, what the play itself teaches us: to try not to be like that salad, where everything exists separately - but to try to adapt and come together. Quite difficult. It’s too easy to just carry on living in your own little world. I guess being in a cross-cultural marriage helps to remind us.”
Coming face-to-face with an everyday situation in an ordinary lift with the usual suspects – will you get rid of those biases you hoard? Or will the favourite coat weaved with judgement bestowed on people you don’t know remain?
Don’t Miss It!
Tickets to see ‘JLT’ at The Theatre, Mall of the Emirates, on July 8-10 are Dh85.