BA Music and Drama / Course details

Year of entry: 2020

Course unit details:
Theatres of the Middle East

Unit code DRAM21021
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 2
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by Drama
Available as a free choice unit? No


The course will introduce students to a range of play texts, playwrights and theatre companies active in the Middle East since World War 2. We focus in particular on theatre in Egypt, Syria, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian territories. Students will carry out detailed textual analysis of a range of extraordinary works by key dramatists, and consider these with reference to the historical, social and political contexts they were produced within. We will explore the challenges of studying theatre from other cultural contexts, drawing on postcolonial, postmodern and feminist critical frameworks to facilitate our understanding. The course will take in theatre practice that engages with themes of nationalism and liberation struggle, the modern state, the conflict in Israel and Palestine, women and sexuality, globalisation and the Arab uprisings. It will be taught via mini-lectures, enquiry-based learning exercises and discussion.


Unit title Unit code Requirement type Description
Theatre & Performance 1 - Texts DRAM10001 Pre-Requisite Optional
Theatre & Performance 2 - Concepts DRAM10002 Pre-Requisite Optional

Pre-requisite units

Any L1 core Drama Study module



Co-requisite units

Any L2 core Drama Study module – Practitioners in Context 1; Practitioners in Context 2



    • To explore a selection of plays, playwrights and theatre companies active in the Middle East since WW2, and consider these in relation to the social and political contexts from which they have emerged
    • To broaden students’ awareness of theatre forms and practices from cultures other than their own
    • To engage students in critical reflection on how theatre as a form engages with and responds to moments of socio-economic and political crisis
    • To increase student’s ability and confidence in drawing on a range of cultural theory to analyse theatre texts and performance
    • To inspire students’ curiosity about theatre practices from cultural heritages other than their own, and enhance their ability to be reflexive and responsible in their engagements with those cultures


Indicative syllabus (please note – topics may change on an annual basis):


Week 1 - Key terms and concepts – colonialism, post-colonialism, materialism, hybridity, culture, theatre, performance, ‘Middle East’, ‘The Arab World’, ‘Islamism’.


Week 2 – ‘Beginnings’: the colonial period – The contested ‘origins’ of Arabic drama; the ‘traditional’ and ‘modern’ in Egyptian plays before the revolution.


Week 3 – Anti-colonial struggle and the emerging nation: Arabic playwrights on imagining the nation: the search for national identity in the post-colonial Egyptian theatre of Tawfik al-Hakim.


Week 4 – The Modern State: Arabic playwrights on the state, security, human rights, repression and dissent. The development of hybrid theatrical form in an age of ‘disturbed spirits’.


Week 5 – Women and Sexuality: the representation of women in plays exploring nationalist struggle and political, social and cultural transformation. How have playwrights constructed and contested the positioning of women in the Arab world?


Week 6 – Israel & Palestine (1): Israeli playwrights on Israel, the Arab world and the Israel-Palestine conflict. Positioning ‘Israel’ in the Middle East. The Holocaust as metaphor 


Week 7 – Israel & Palestine (2): Palestinian playwrights on Palestine, the Arab world and the Israel-Palestine conflict. Positioning ‘Palestine’ in the Middle East. The nation as metaphor.


Week 8 – Global Cultural Currencies: importing and exporting Middle Eastern theatre


Week 9 – Theatre and the Arab Uprisings: street performance and plays in times of revolution and war.


Week 10 – Islamic performance, the performance of Islam: the performance of ‘Islam’ performed in the contemporary world; Islamic traditions of performance.


Week 11 – Group research presentations.


Week 12 – Course evaluation and essay workshop. 


Teaching and learning methods




Creative exercise

Discussion exercise

Student presentation


Per course:


One contribution from an invited artist/theatre company


The course unit will provide information to at least Blackboard minimum requirements.


Knowledge and understanding

  • Increased awareness of the plays of key published dramatists from the Middle East, with particular focus on plays from Israel, Palestine, Egypt and Syria 
  • Enhanced familiarity with the broad historical shifts that have affected cultural production in the region, including colonialism/imperialism, nationalist struggle, the emergence of ‘modern’ states, conflict and revolution
  • Increased awareness of key themes in contemporary Arabic drama, including the impact of the Israel and Palestine conflict, political oppression, nationalism and women/sexuality, uprising and revolution
  • Improved understanding of the strategies by which theatre makers have critiqued political oppression and explored human rights, including the use of parable, metaphor, popular forms of entertainment and humour 
  • Enhanced ability to draw on post-colonial and cultural theory to support analysis of cultural texts, make considered claims, and appreciate the complexity of cross cultural study

Intellectual skills

  • Critically analyse and interrogate texts and texts in performance
  • Learn how to historically contextualise texts and performances, and to draw on contextualisation to develop understanding
  • Critically evaluate a series of plays and performance relation to key moments of socio-political transformation in the Middle East – colonialism, independence, conflict and revolution
  • Synthesise theoretical terms and concepts and apply these to analysis and argument
  • Effectively use primary and secondary sources, including in contexts where data is incomplete and where careful interpretive work is required

Practical skills

  • Research academic and non-academic materials/contexts, and evaluate sources
  • Plan, undertake and evaluate independent critical work
  • Engage in discussion of complex and controversial subjects
  • Work in a team towards a group project
  • Presentation in front of a group

Transferable skills and personal qualities

  • Development of a range of research skills – analysis, presentation, written and verbal communication, constructing effective and persuasive argument, evaluation of sources
  • Plan, undertake, manage and evaluate a group project
  • Communicate effectively, including when discussing complex and controversial subject matter
  • Develop a long-term curiosity about, and engagement in, cultural practices from other places

Employability skills

Analytical skills
¿ Creative thinking ¿ creative and critical approaches to problem-solving
Group/team working
¿ Ability to work independently and as part of a team, as part of creative and critical projects that present unpredictable and challenging scenarios;
Oral communication
¿ Advanced communication skills ¿ verbal, written; prepared/rehearsed and improvised; ¿ Ability to present self and ideas effectively, including when dealing with complex and sensitive topics
Problem solving
¿ Project management ¿ planning, undertaking, managing and evaluating projects
¿ Understanding of professional cultures/environments ¿ professional approaches to timekeeping, peer support/review, self reflection/evaluation and dealing with sources of concern/complaint.

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written assignment (inc essay) 60%
Oral assessment/presentation 40%

Feedback methods

Essay plan - written or verbal


Group research presentation - written


Essay - written



Recommended reading

Amine K 2006 ‘Theatre in the Arab World: A Difficult Birth’ Theatre Research International 31:2 145-162


Azmy, H and Carlson M (eds) 2013. Special issue: Theatre and the Arab Spring. Theatre Research International 38 (2)


Badawi MM 1987 Modern Arabic Drama in Egypt Cambridge


Hamdan M 2006 Poetics, Politics and Protest in Arab Theatre: The Bitter Cup and the Holy Rain Sussex Academic Press: Brighton


Houssami E (ed) 2015 Doomed by Hope: Essays on Arab Theatre London: Pluto Press.


Jayyusi S 2003 Short Arabic Plays: An Anthology Interlink Books: Massachusetts, PROTA


Jayyusi S & Allen R 1995 Modern Arabic Drama: An Anthology Indiana University Press, PROTA


Ziter E 2015 Political Performance in Syria: From the Six Day War to the Syrian Uprising Palgrave Macmillan

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 33
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Jennifer Hughes Unit coordinator

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