Monday, 13 February 2017
by Carmen Nasr
The Arabian Sites
When Otto Von Bismarck, the Chancellor of the German Empire, led the way in introducing the world's first social insurance for German citizens in the 1880s, it was for practical rather than idealistic reasons.
The measures could ensure a steady supply of healthy citizens for German industry, the armed forces and to compete for a workforce, reducing the debilitating mass emigration of workers to the USA where such measures did not exist.
Carmen Nasr's precise and compelling play Dubailand concentrates on a 21st century tale of economic migration and lack of employment rights: The relationship between exploited Indian migrant workers and the boom Emirate city of Dubai in the present-day global economy.
Two tales intertwine and finally merge: an Indian worker brought over to build the gleaming glass and concrete tower blocks, living in what amounts to slave conditions, unable to send money back to his family; a British PR middle manager living in luxury whose position is jeopardized by the arrival of a UK female friend, an aspiring investigative journalist angling for her big break.
With 18 short, sharp scenes, this carefully written piece, directed by Georgie Staight, unravels the lives of the Indian builder Amar (Adi Chugh) and the British media worker Jamie (Nicholas Banks) against the unreal reality of Dubai. The play has a deceptively simple feel but slyly inserts the more complex duplicitious exchange between India and Dubai states through the elegant ruthlessness of politically-savvy PR executive Deena (Reena Lalbihari),
The minimalist design by Bex Kemp using neon vertical tubes and perspex boxes is clever. Nevertheless the production falls down in failing to follow one of the stage directions of the published text. By leaving out the portrait hanging on the wall of Dubai's ruler Sheik Mohamed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, there is no sense of the hierarchy within Dubai and how the state distributes contracts and acts as ultimate authority.
We had to google vigorously to discover the control exercised by companies set up by the Dubai ruling family, the Department of Labour permits which construction firms have to obtain for their foreign workers and what seem to be unenforced labour regulations.
Even so, the play itself does makes oblique references to Dubai as a British protectorate, its "marzipan" managerial set-up, the world of loans and credit where ex-pats falling on hard times are as vulnerable as other migrant workers, and hidden or ignored state regulation within a smooth dramatic structure.
It certainly gave us enough information to dig up the facts from the internet and understand how the fates of the various nationals in Dubailand also reflects the role the nations play in the Dubai mosaic.
British-Lebanese playwright Nasr has done a shrewd job in distilling dramatically troubling and sometimes fatal contradictions which affect us all in the brave new world of public-private partnership and state-allowed and promoted credit and loans. In an age of Brexit uncertainty when migrant workers in the UK and Brits in continental Europe also find themselves in a precarious situation, it's an amber/green light for a slick but heartfelt drama.