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The Bread We Break

Miray Sidhom
Contact and Roxy Moores
Contact, Manchester

The Bread We Break
The Bread We Break

Bread, for all its virtues is a bland foodstuff; life-sustaining but lacking flavour. Miray Sidhom’s The Bread We Break on the other hand is a rich and tasty confection.

In an ambitious show that blends the personal with the political and the lyrical with the mundane, Miray Sidhom uses bread as a metaphor for an agent of change explaining how the ingredients merge when mixed to become a new substance.

In Sidhom’s native country, Egypt, bread is linked to social uprising as a series of political errors—building luxury apartments on fertile land—has left the country dependent upon imported wheat to produce the most basic foodstuff. The history of Egypt is littered with examples of political unrest linked to shortages of bread or rises in its price dating back to the reign of Ramses. The play is bang up to date as Sidhom points out the country is now dependent upon wheat imports from Russia and Ukraine.

Director Alix Harris uses multimedia techniques to create an intoxicating and intriguing background for Sidhom’s presentation. The stage set resembles a Bedouin tent—loose tapestries hang on the walls, rich rugs, sacks of grain and flour and rough boxes litter the floor. A series of illustrations from Egyptian hieroglyphs to newsreel footage are projected onto the tapestries and Sidhom’s voice is mixed and multitracked to produce atmospheric effects.

It is a restless, even fragmented production squeezing in detailed descriptions of events and Sidhom’s personal recollections as she struggles to understand the culture from which she originated. In an abrupt change of pace, Sidhom switches from objective narrator to chatty personal raconteur, acknowledging her inability to bake and recalling puzzled, and complaisant, family discussions on the Egyptian political situation.

Physical storytelling is employed also, in particular Sidhom’s hip-swivelling belly dance. She expresses a kind of observer’s guilt, acknowledging she was not involved in any of the political demonstrations, and uses the play as a personal protest against the UK government’s police and crime bill which, if enacted, will criminalise protest groups.

Sidhom’s presentation makes demands of the audience. The opening amounts to a fascinating if somewhat opaque prologue. Musician Medhat Elmasry generates remarkably wide and colourful sounds from the most basic of instruments like tambourines and drums while Sidhom strikes a series of poses, possibly based upon Egyptian hieroglyphs, and her recorded voice recites the links between bread and unrest in that country.

The Bread We Break is a crowded production conveying complex issues in a manner that requires and rewards audience concentration. It becomes, therefore, a feast for the mind and emotions.

Reviewer: David Cunningham