From Carthage festival 2018 Image Credit: Social Media

Manama: Tunisians are once more pondering the extent of personal freedoms following an unprecedented act of stage nudism that cast a deep shadow on a theatre performance in Tunis.

In a scene near the end of the play, Syrian actor Hussain Marii took off all his clothes, catching the audience off guard by his shocking appearance, prompting several people to leave the municipal theatre and sparking outrage across the North African country.

The play “Ya Kabeer”, staged as part of the 20th Carthage Drama Festival, revolves around the violence suffered by the Syrian people in the war afflicting the country, its impact on the citizens, the reasons that led to hostility and how it can be addressed.

In the play, a girl visits her brother to inform him she is planning to go home to Syria to attend their father’s funeral.

However, the brother tries to convince her not to travel to Syria, warning her of the war conditions. The siblings argue heatedly and the brother is adamant that she not travel home.

According to Zouheir Rayes, the manager of the Municipal Theatre, around 400 people, including families, watched the play on Monday.

“It is a Syrian-German play acted out by two Syrian actors while the technical crew was German. When the actor stripped naked, some spectators left the theatre, but others stayed,” he said.

“What the actor did was not just a projection of sexual fantasies, but a message through which he wanted to express the violation of freedoms in the Arab world and assault on the body.”

However, he added that the festival’s selection committee should have watched the play before approving its participation.

“Usually, participants send details about the play, the actors and the technical crew. They also send a DVD of the play. I am not sure what happened this time. Anyway, it is the first time in Tunisia’s history that an actor appear naked in front of an audience. I personally do not believe in the need for nudism to convey messages, especially in plays which have a totally different set-up from movies.”

Rayes said that the actor’s naked appearance lasted several minutes.

“Obviously, he wanted to shock the audience and people. This is not common even across Europe. I have watched several plays there and there is often insinuations. I was upset about what happened.”

He added that security men came to ask about what the play, but no one questioned the actor or the technical crew.

The festival management team issued a statement condemning the naked appearance.

“The actor’s act was not scripted according to the video that the selection committee approved for the festival. It was an isolated and irresponsible action by an actor who violated the ethical and professional contract that stipulated commitment to the show as sent to the committee,” the management said in a statement.

“We insist on the significance of preserving and guaranteeing freedom of creativity and expression as stipulated by the Tunisian constitution, but it has to be within the perimeter of the norms and criteria stated in the contract.”

Tunisians took to social media to condemn the naked appearance and to call for ensuring there would be no repeat. Some called for the resignation of the festival management and the culture minister for offending the nation.

“I cannot even write about what happened because even the letter and words I type are ashamed of what so-called intellectuals can do, say and defend,” Omar, a social media user, posted.

“We may be used to scenes of nudism in movies, but not in a theatre. The organisers should have at least put up a sign warning about the naked act so that people make their choice whether to watch or not.”

Tarkan said that what shocked him most was how people could defend an act that shocked families and children at the theatre and the whole nation outside it.

“You cannot hold the nation hostage to your fantasies under the claim of freedom of expression,” he posted.

Adel, another user, wondered why none of the political parties issued a statement regarding an offence to the public morals of the country.

“When Habib Bourguiba was president from 1956 to 1987, we never had such low standards in movies or plays or any cultural or intellectual work. Unfortunately, we now have stooped so low under various misleading claims.”

Saddam said that the play as a Syrian-German production should have been performed with the naked appearance in Syria and Germany.

“I feel that many people are abusing Tunisia and letting their fantasies out here. I am very suspicious about their approaches and intentions,” he said. “I have the feeling that several quarters abroad with the complicity if Tunisians here trying to shape our identity according to their views and concepts. We should not and we will not play according to their rules.”

For Ramsis, the sensible action that should have been taken right after the play was to dismiss the minister of culture and all those who approved the performance in Tunisia.