Dialogue with the Sphinx

Jered Stuffco
3 Min Read

Henrik Ibsen makes a theatrical debut at the Pyramids

Theatre fans will have the chance to catch one of Egypt’s oldest and best-loved personalities flex his acting skills this week.

The Sphinx – or the mythical creature’s voice at least – will join 40 other actors and the Cairo Symphony Orchestra for a massive staging of the play Peer Gynt, the famous work penned by the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906).

The big show drops tonight and tomorrow at the Sound and Light Stage at the Pyramids in Giza and is the biggest event of a year-long tribute to Ibsen, which has included about 8,000 events in 80 countries around the world.

The idea to stage the play at the Pyramids isn’t as random as you may think.

“One of the key scenes in the play is a dialogue between Peer Gynt, the protagonist, and the Sphinx, says Tor Kinsarvik Engen, first secretary of the Norwegian Embassy in Cairo.

In the play, the character of Gynt also spends time locked up in a mental asylum in Cairo, and the show’s organizers decided that the Pyramids in Giza would make a stunning backdrop for the play.

The show is directed by Bentein Baardson, a celebrated Norwegian director who won acclaim for staging the opening ceremonies of the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehamer.

“This is the biggest event ever in the 70-year history of bilateral relations between Egypt and Norway, says Engen, who adds that Norway has the second largest population of student expats living in Cairo.

“Obviously, we hope it will strengthen the already very good relations, says Engen.

No kidding. While relations between countries in the Middle East and northern Europe have been pretty sketchy lately, it appears that Norway and Egypt are becoming increasingly chummy.

Not only has the Norwegian government overseen the translation of Ibsen’s works into Arabic, but the earlier this month, Norway cancelled an estimated $26 million (around LE 150 million) in bilateral debt with Egypt, according to a release by the Norwegian government.

There’s also more Ibsen in Egypt this month.

A touring exhibition called “Ibsen’s Women appears at the Bibliotecha Alexandria at the end of the month, and earlier this week, the Hanagar Arts Center unveiled a mixed-media show which combined an interactive web installation with a five-meter-long mural illustrated by Scottish artist Jack McLean. The exhibit runs until Oct. 27.

Tickets for Peer Gynt are available at the Cairo Opera House for LE 100, but special discounts are available for groups, and students get in free. The show starts at 9 p.m., but audience members are asked to arrive at least one hour early for security reasons.

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