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Baghdad Wedding - Wedding In A War Zone

Author: Darryn King
Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Now playing at the Belvoir St theatre is Baghdad Wedding, the debut from Iraqi playwright Hassan Abdulrazzak that explores war-torn Iraq from a very different perspective. 3D’s Darryn King spoke to actor Ben Winspear about fear and loathing in Baghdad.

In the play Winspear portrays the young, successful, Iraq-born protagonist Salim, who supported the US invasion and is more of a Londoner than Iraqi – but when he goes back to Iraq to get married to his sweetheart, he gets more than he bargained for.

Young people, booze and sex doesn’t really fit in with most of our impressions about Iraq…
Yeah I think it’s great, it’s really refreshing. The western media is obsessed with images of hijabs and donkey carts and bomb craters. They’ll go for those clichéd images wherever possible, and what the playwright Hassan Abdulrazzak has done, which is so great, is to present the kids of these countries – who are kind of like kids anywhere in the world. There was a great award-winning photo from a few years back of a bombed out building in Beirut, with these young guys in a convertible who’ve pulled up out the front to check out the damage. This play has that same beautiful juxtaposition, and those are the kind of kids we’re playing in the piece. They still identify with the country and their heritage but also living with one foot in the modern, western world.

Abdulrazzak is also taking steps to turn the play into a feature film, and it does seem like Baghdad Wedding has the scope of a film – would you agree-
Yeah, it’s written with a slight filmic aesthetic: it jumps backwards and forwards in time and place and switches into memory, and one scene may take place in four different locations over a seven year period. So yeah, it’s already got some of that form to it.

One of the insights in the play is that, once the US troops pull out, the rest of the world will promptly forget about Iraq. How important is a play like Baghdad Wedding in not letting us forget-
Very. Iraq at one time was a great, highly educated, secular, very wealthy and advanced economy. About 30 years of war have really set the place backwards, but the spirit of the people is as strong as ever. It’s really important that a country like Iraq finally gets a chance to redefine itself outside of being a war-torn pile of rubble, because they’ve got an incredible history of civilisation there, and long links with Europe and the West. All that stuff has been shelved and displaced by the violence of the last three decades and that experience.

Is there one consistent message in the play-

It finishes in quite a melancholic vein, and we see people polarised and transformed in lots of different directions – but I don’t think it leaves with you any single idea or vision. It’s kind of too complicated for that.

You must have learned a lot about Iraq during this production.

We’ve had this fantastic cultural adviser for the show who’s just brilliant and passionately dedicated to the play and the process here. He’s been invaluable. We’ve also seen a few other films that have come out of Iraq recently, and all of them, like this play, are fragmentary wreckages of stories. It’s a place where it’s kind of impossible to write a complete narrative because the fabric of the society is so torn and divided, and you can see the artists really struggling to find a cohesive vision. But that fragmentation becomes the story.

WHAT: Baghdad Wedding
WHERE: Belvoir St Theatre
WHEN: Until Sunday 22 March
MORE: belvoir.com.au

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