Hannah Khalil’s important and timely new play, A Museum in Baghdad, will transfer to the Kiln Theatre in Spring 2020 following its world premiere in the Swan Theatre Stratford-upon-Avon from 11 October 2019 – 25 January 2020, it was announced today.
In 1926, the nation of Iraq is in its infancy, and British archaeologist Gertrude Bell is founding a museum in Baghdad. In 2006, Ghalia Hussein is attempting to reopen the museum despite the looting during the war.
Collapsing the decades that separate them, these two women seek the same prize: to create a fresh sense of unity and nationhood, to make the world anew through the museum and its treasures. But in such unstable times, questions remain. Who is the museum for? What rights do we have to try and shape someone else’s history? And why does that matter when people are dying?
A Museum in Baghdad is Hannah Khalil’s first play for the RSC. Her previous work includes Interference (National Theatre of Scotland), The Scar Test (Soho Theatre) and Scenes from 68* Years (Arcola). Hannah’s work for radio includes The Deportation Room and Last of the Pearl Fishers, both for BBC Radio 4. She was awarded The Arab British Centre’s prize for Culture 2017.
Hannah Khalil said: “I realised quite early in the writing process that the play needed to address not one but two time periods: 1926 with the initial opening of the museum by Gertrude Bell, and 2006 post looting as the museum team try to ready it for reopening to the public. As a culture, we rarely touch on Middle Eastern stories in the consideration of history in Europe and when we do it’s always from a Western point of view. The responsibility of telling this important story is not one I take lightly, and my research has been over many years. I’m very grateful to the many organizations, academics and individuals who have shared their expertise with me during that time. I’m awed by the diligence and care that director Erica Whyman and the team at the RSC have taken in every aspect of the production. To now have the opportunity to put the play in front of a London audience at a theatre I’ve long admired is extremely exciting.”
Erica Whyman said: “As we prepare to open A Museum in Baghdad in Stratford-upon-Avon, there’s no way of escaping the fact that we, as a nation, are looking long and hard at our position within the wider world, which is why it feels like an appropriate moment to reflect, not only upon the state of our own nation, but also upon what nationhood means to us today. Much like Shakespeare’s own history plays, A Museum in Baghdad is a play which isn’t afraid to confront big issues and ideas. What is the true cost of intervention? What does it mean to be a post-imperial nation? What responsibility must we take for our past as we embark on an uncertain future on the world stage and why should we care about goddesses carved out of stone when people are dying outside the door?”
The production is directed by RSC Deputy Artistic Director, Erica Whyman, whose recent work for the Company includes Romeo and Juliet and Miss Littlewood.
Joining Erica Whyman on the creative team are Tom Piper (Designer), Charles Balfour (Lighting Designer) Oğuz Kaplangi (Music), Tanushka Marah (Movement), David Greig and Pippa Hill (Dramaturgs) and Nina Dunn (Video).
The current cast includes RSC Associate Artist Emma Fielding who returns to the RSC to play Gertrude Bell. Her previous RSC credits include Revolt. She Said, Revolt Again, Cymbeline, Measure for Measure, The School For Scandal, Twelfth Night, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Broken Heart.
Making her RSC debut in the role of Iraqi archaeologist Ghalia Hussein is Rendah Heywood, whose previous theatre credits include: The Kitchen, Rocket to the Moon Philistines, The Rose Tattoo and Therese Raquin for the National Theatre, Attempts On Her Life (BAC), The Grievance Club (Samuel French OOB Festival, NYC), Refugia (Guthrie Theatre) and This Time (Off Broadway).
Further casting includes David Birrell (Leonard Woolley), Houda Echouafni (Layla), Ali Gadema (Kidnapper/Prime Minister), Zed Josef (Salim), Nadi Kemp-Sayfi (Nasiya), Debbie Korley (Sam York), Riad Richie (Mohammed) and Rasoul Saghir (Abu Zaman).
Full casting for A Museum in Baghdad at Kiln Theatre to be announced.
A Museum in Baghdad was co-commissioned by the RSC and the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh.