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Adaptation of 2009 film ‘Exam’ to be staged in Dubai this weekend

Dubai: A good play provokes debate long after the curtain comes down, and that’s exactly what director Ahmad Rabieh is hoping for after theatregoers see his production, Exam, this weekend.

The stage adaptation of a 2009 film of the same name, Exam finds eight candidates for a mysterious, but amazing job together in a room as they battle for the position.

“It’s a very interesting psychological thriller,” says Jordanian Rabieh, 25. “Those words by themselves attract people but it’s also the ‘what would you do’” aspect.

“In a confined space with no laws, what would you do, what kind of person would you become? Would you still care for your fellow man or try to get yourself to first place regardless? There are a lot of points in the play that are very action-driven, and it’s very intense.”

“There are two discussions that I hope to come out of this: ‘What would I have done’ and ‘who is your favourite candidate’?”

The American University of Sharjah grad is making his directing debut after leaving his acting “comfort zone” as he calls it to take up an opportunity extended to him by Dubai community theatre group Backstage. When he spoke to tabloid! on Wednesday, he was at the Dubai Community Theatre and Arts Centre’s (Ductac) Kilachand Theatre in Mall of the Emirates, doing a technical run-through ahead of Thursday’s opening night.

Rabieh found the source material himself, after watching the film while at university, and when Backstage asked him if he’d ever like to direct, the wheels were set in motion. “I started speaking to the writer [Stuart Hazeldine] on Facebook and email. We had to edit it because it was a movie script, and it kind of came together by itself. I did a thing or two and it grew and grew and here I am.”

Although he says Hazeldine is in talks to take Exam to London’s West End, this is likely the first time the story has been told in a play.

“We are a community group and we are doing the best we can. It was more of a novelty contract purchase between us, and [Hazeldine] said, just make sure you put in the credits of the movie and don’t sue any other company for doing an adaptation of this, even if they take ideas from you. He wants it to be freeform, relaxed.”

When it comes to performance art in Dubai, there are often complaints that venues are not good enough — particularly in terms of large-scale productions. But Rabieh says for plays such as his, Dubai’s venues are not only good, they are great.

“Some productions do need a bigger stage, if it they need a large cast. But if you are doing a play like mine, which is set in one room, Kilichand Theatre is great for it. It’s what’s called a black box theatre, a black room and you can do whatever you want to do — being on a bigger stage would cripple us. In Ductac, you also have Centrepoint theatre, which is a big, big stage. The one thing that Dubai needs to focus on is a few technical aspects that can be improved slowly, but other than that, the spaces are great.”

Putting on the show itself required casting local talent — something Rabieh says is one of Dubai’s strengths.

“Thankfully, we have quite a bit of talent in Dubai, it’s just a matter of being able to reach it. We were able to find a few strong players. The theatre scene in Dubai is definitely growing and there’s a good turn-out for the amateur scene here. Our biggest downfall is that it is community theatre, and a lot of people are hesitant when they hear that word. They don’t understand the level or the quality of the productions that we do. I think the mentality is headed in the right direction and I’m happy about that.”

Want to get into theatre? Go see Exam

“If anyone is interested in acting or directing, or any of the above, they should definitely come see [Exam], because this is the biggest source of where we meet theatre enthusiasts and people who want to enter theatre. We are a community theatre group and we are looking for opportunities for people that have ideas, and we are here to listen. Show up after the show and talk to us.”

Don’s miss it

Exam is staged at the Kilachand Theatre, Ductac, Mall of the Emirates, on March 13 and 14 at 7.30pm, and at 2.30pm and 7.30pm on March 15. Doors open 30 minutes before the show. Tickets, Dh100 (Dh80 for Backstage members) at the Ductac box office or call 04-3414777.