Image by Rachid H

Daniel Nelson


A History of Water in the Middle East is the most entertaining lecture on the subject you’ll ever  attend.

To be more precise, the subject, as one of the four performers says, is  “the history of how water in the Middle East has been used by Britain for its imperial purposes…” 

And yes, author Sabrina Mahfouz knows full well that Middle East is a geographic location that makes sense only if you are standing in a particular part of the world.

She takes us through a series of key moments and vivid illustrations of wider issues affecting 12 countries, including Sumerian gods Ninhursag and Enki, Britain’s strategic colonial interests in India, the Bahrain protectorate, Sykes-Picot’s deadly lines on a map, the use of illegal weapons, Jordanian women plumbers (“there was a time when a woman would never be able to bend under a stranger’s sink”), desalination, sex in the shower in the Emirates, the Balfour Declaration and the plunder on which the British Museum is founded.

The words come in fusillades of facts and history, mostly verifiable, some unattributed (“Egypt has more writers in prison than any other country”, “98 per cent of Yemeni women have been sexually assaulted during this four-year drawn-out conflict”), comic bursts, sarcasm, operatic arias, cod karaoke, foot-stomping songs, graphics and flashing lights.

The whole heartfelt, angry shebang is held together by snatches of a spy job interview between British-Egyptian Mahfouz and a British intelligence official.

It’s an intense, energetic hour of “highly edited, highly condensed” information and entertainment, a passionate, persuasive polemic that cascades through the centuries and pours troubled water onto oil.

22 October, post-show talk, Sabrina Mahfouz in conversation with Hassan Damluji, head of Middle East Relations at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, free with ticket

30 Octoberpost-show talk, the cast 

* A History of Water in the Middle East is at the Royal Court, Sloane Square, SW1, £15-£25, until 16 November. Info: 7565 5000/ https://royalcourttheatre.com/



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