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Dubailand at the Finborough Theatre

Published by: Carolin Kopplin on 9th Feb 2017 | View all blogs by Carolin Kopplin

Adi Chugh.jpg

Adi Chugh as Amar

Can you see me? Can you see me standing here in the stars? Look at me I'm in the future. (...) I'm in the future and I'm building one of the highest buildings in the best city of the world.

First shown in a staged reading format as part of the Finborough Theatre's Vibrant Festival in 2015, Carmen Nasr's play discusses the contradictory nature of luxury founded on the exploitation of impoverished foreign workers.

Dubailand is the name of a retail and entertainment development that is nearing completion. The play focuses on three characters - Indian migrant worker Amar who helps building the dream, British PR hotshot Jamie who is promoting it, and British journalist Clara who intends to reveal the truth about this fantasy.

On the 88th floor of an unfinished skyscraper, Amar (Adi Chugh) is gazing at the stars, talking to his little daughter who he left behind in India. He came to Dubai for a better life - a city of lights and an ice cream parlour offering 200 different flavours - yet he finds himself living in a slum. Moving to a different camp would require bribes that he cannot afford. Meanwhile Jamie (Nicholas Banks) is living in luxury - that he cannot afford. A former activist, he now prefers living the good life. He has just impressed his icy boss Amanda (Belinda Stewart-Wilson) with the idea of a live-feed broadcasting directly from the building site so buyers can see how their property is being built and their investment is growing. So naturally Jamie is not pleased when his former girlfriend Clara (Mitzli Rose Neville) intends to further her journalistic career by putting his own job on the line. Clara, tired of writing for a shopping magazine, wants to research the working conditions of migrant workers in Dubai who are building Dubailand and reveal the brutal exploitation at the heart of the glittering dream world.

Nicholas Banks, Miztli Rose Neville.jpg

Nicholas Banks as Jamie and Mitzli Rose Neville as Clara

Amanda's PR team strives to present Dubailand as a modern development where Emiratis drink coffee in Starbucks whilst enjoying state-of-the art technology with their latest gadgets. Any hint of tradition or the past is to be banned from the video presentation. Of course the truth is rather different. Dubai is an absolute monarchy and a tax haven for the rich. There is no income tax but you also have to do without opposition parties, elections, or unions that could protect workers' rights. Migrant workers from India, the Philippines and other south Asian countries come to the UAE and are paid very low wages, often living under appalling conditions. Carmen Nasr effectively targets these issues in her play.

The German airport security officer is a true clichée but the play is well written and Nasr presents her arguments well, placing the emphasis more on the subject matter than the characters. Occasionally, Nasr's language changes into a form of free association, using the bare minimum to get her point across.

Georgie Staight's simple but intense production features a very good cast, most of all the three main characters played by Adi Chugh, Nicholas Banks, and Mitzli Rose Neville, but they get splendid support from Belinda Stewart-Wilson's cold-blooded Amanda who defeats Jamie's arguments by comparing his present hedonistic life to the crammed conditions in a London flat share. Reena Lalbihari impreseses as Jamie's colleague Deena who is living the good life just like her western colleagues, rejecting the "backwards" traditions of non-western countries. Leon Williams plays Jamie's colleague Tommie and Varun Sharma convinces in a variety of roles. Aanya Chadha is lovely as Amar's daughter Lali.

A relevant and topical new play that shows much promise.

By Carolin Kopplin 

Until 21st February 2017 

Finborough Theatre 

Running time: 90 minutes with no interval

Photographs by Tim Hall.



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