Cairo’s old and indie theatres open the doors to a whole new world right here at home.
You don’t have to be a hotshot actor or a hipster playwright to realize that there is a rare magic to theatres that is never matched in cinemas and other art spaces. The draping curtains, the nearness of the actors in the flesh, and the sound effects and props make for a distinct experience never found in any other literary or entertainment medium. The charm of the theatre is naturally augmented when the theatre is old, underground, or unique in designs. And when it comes to looking for unique architecture and worlds of designs, Cairo is always the right place to be. So, we’ve compiled a list of the most badass theatres we’ve come across so far here in Cairo.
With stunning calligraphic graffiti ornamenting the walls of the little Townhouse Gallery in the heart of Downtown Cairo is Rawabet Theatre. Founded in 2006, the idea of the theatre is to lend space for independent performing arts focused on alternative forms of expression, which, from the looks of the gorgeously dramatic theatre, shouldn’t be very hard to achieve. Rawabet (meaning ‘links’) is named so as to allow an organic bond to form between the performers and the audience.
Located in Azbakeya, this vintage theatre invites us to older times where going to the theatre was a ritual on its own, with women dressed up in their best gowns and gentlemen in tailor-made suits seeking witty entertainment and socialisation. This makes us wonder about the little things we have lost in the age of giant TVs and 3D movies.
El Hanager Arts Centre
Within the intimate folds of Zamalek’s leafy streets is El Hanager Arts Centre, hidden in the stunning Cairo Opera House Grounds. Located near the Lotus Tower and walking distance away from the majestic Nile Korneish of Zamalek is a theatre that will surely take you back in time (and place).
El Salam Theatre
Tucked inside one of Qasr el Einy’s architecture-rich streets, El Salam Theatre showcases Arabic movies that are tough to find elsewhere. Catching a show there will make for a truly authentic experience that is far removed from Western movies, which at times we can hardly relate to. So, here’s for a truly Egyptian entertainment experience.
Al Qawmy Theatre
Arabic plays - currently a scarcity - are constantly playing in the well-known Al Qawmy Theatre, opening up space for indulging in real authentic theatre instead of a virtual experience that has become mundane with our overexposure to digital material through laptops, phones, television, and iPad screens. So, give your eyes and your mind a refreshing break to ponder over the realism of this life and immediate art that begs for your attention.
Al Talee’a Theatre
Another Downtown Cairo wonder is the spacious Al Talee’a Theatre, bursting in red, giving the feel of a truly theatrical experience where the plays and dilemmas acted right in front of you turn into real life scenarios and settings as you completely melt away in the story being acted out.
Showcasing free or semi-free plays for a small crowd of 150-180 is a guaranteed warm theatre experience with Nasibian Theatre, located in the Jesuit Cultural Centre. For those longing for a cosy arts experience in the heart of the city, checking out this theatre’s shows might be just the right idea.
Najib Al-Rihani Theatre, named after the late ‘Charlie Chaplin of the East’, with its constantly-updated billboard bursting with colour amongst otherwise dull-looking buildings, showcases Arabic plays in a gorgeous little theatre that will make sure you feel the depth of your Egyptian roots.
Al Qawmy Theatre For Children
Who said adults should have all the fun? Al Qawmy Theatre For Children offers an alternative to the virtual games their current generation seems to be addicted to. Provoking their young minds and ensuring they’re always up and running, watching and participating in theatre could be a great mental and psychological benefit for your young ones.
Built in the late 1930s as a replica of New York's Radio City Music Hall, Cinema Radio is located on Talaat Harb street and during the glory days of Downtown, the theatre was where all of Egypt's prominent movies premiered and was frequented by high society darlings. Eventually the building fell into disrepair until Al-Ismaelia group purchased the largely vacant property and revamped it as part of their larger and ongoing efforts to revitalise Downtown, and the theatre is now most well known for having housed everyone's favourite satirist, Bassem Youssef's El Bernameg as well as Abla Fahita. Most recently, it was used as the locale for one of the dreamy performances from this year's D-CAF event titled In The Shadow of the Waves (pictured above).
El Ballon Theatre
If sitting in a chair only meters away from Arab actors passionately caught up in their own world (to our enjoyment), depicting societal and universal human themes is not enough for you, how about a balloon-shaped theatre to go with that as well? Just like Cairo, who never abides by strict customs, the physicality of the theatre itself invites you to engage in a unique experience that will remind you of your liveliness and that of your surroundings.
With all the theatrical and cinematic outlets in the city, many of which are incredibly vintage, there should be no excuse for us not to take part in this cultural celebration.
Photo shoot by @MO4Network's #MO4Productions.
Photography by Ahmed Najeeb.