An analytical study of the theatre of the Syrian playwright Saadallah Wannous, with particular emphasis on the plays written after the 1967 war
This study is an examination of the life and work of the Syrian dramatist Saadallah Wannous (1941-1997). Wannous's name is virtually unknown in the West; only two academic studies of any significance have appeared in English on this eminent and challenging writer, who was honoured by UNESCO at the end of his life. Even in the Arab world his standing rests largely upon his celebrity as a cultural icon, since professional performances of his plays are rare due to the decline of the theatre in the region, and little attention has been devoted to theatre studies by Arab academics. The two studies in English do not attempt to be comprehensive but focus on particular stages of Wannous's career. This study is, therefore, the first to encompass the full range of Wannous's work. To do so it combines an account of his life which seeks to comprehend the various forces that shaped his thinking with an analysis of his dramatic works. The study concentrates on the plays written in the years following the trauma inflicted on the Arab world by the catastrophe of their defeat in the Arab-Israeli war of June, 1967. Wannous's career can be divided into three phases: the immature plays of his young manhood which are influenced by European models and generally focus on the social condition of the individual; his middle period - the `theatre of politicisation', when his Marxist politics were the main factor shaping his drama; and his late works, which are characterised by an extraordinary freedom of thought and expression. The introduction places Wannous in his historical and sociocultural context and provides a brief background explaining the literary and theatrical traditions of the Arab world that influenced his activity as a dramatist. Each phase is then examined in turn and the plays are analysed in accordance with the focus of the study. This means that emphasis is given to the middle period, but no significant work is neglected. The study aims to trace the trajectory of Wannous's development using a variety of sources: the plays themselves, Wannous's own journalism and critical writings, interviews with his widow, his friends and colleagues, and numerous journals, books and articles, some of which contain important interviews with Wannous that shed light on his thought and ways of working. Use is also made of the two studies mentioned above. The study shows that Wannous's theatre was influenced by the key political, social and cultural developments of his time, and that he constantly sought to find forms that would express those transformations in dramatic terms.