Hanane Hajj Ali is an important Beirut-based actor, writer and activist. We spoke to Hanane Hajj Ali about Jogging, which will have its London premiere at the Gate Theatre between 8 – 10 July.
Can you tell us a bit about Jogging?
In a period of my life I experienced a very painful personal experience that made me dream of killing my own child driven by the utmost of love, and I suddenly felt like I was a piece of the monstrous puzzle of Medea. Jogging was created from a tremendous need to find the other pieces and inspired by true stories of contemporary, Lebanese Medeas.
Alone on a bare stage, I subtly blur the lines between the real and the imaginary, to tell my story, but at the same time, leave room for the audience to create their own interpretations.
Where did the inspiration for the show come from?
Metaphorically speaking Beirut is the main character of the play and, as in my daily life, I am in a close contact with “her” especially when I jog early mornings. Not only she is very present in my life but she is so strong and unpredictable that our relationship fluctuates constantly between love the deepest and the utmost hate, between contrasts and paradoxes… Having an affair with Beirut is dangerous but very inspiring.
What’s been your most interesting experience presenting this show before?
The most important experience was to see how strong and diverse were the reactions of the different audiences in Lebanon. I toured all over Lebanon, and I can tell you that Jogging really did stir stagnant waters because it dealt with the unspoken, the hidden, the sacred. The risk taking journey of Jogging, defying censorship laws and dealing with the Lebanese “Bermuda Triangle”: Sex, Politics, and Religion, was the most interesting one in my career so far.
This is the London premiere for Jogging. What does it mean to you to be presenting your show here?
It means a lot to me because, not only I am very keen to experience the live theatre encounter with the very diverse audience here, but also because it is a premiere for me personally in London. Having the chance to be programmed in Shubbak Festival and in Gate Theatre is for sure an added value because it will give Jogging a wonderful visibility, and allow me to get exposed to a very rich program and to get to know artists I would not be able to meet and or see their work in Lebanon.
How did you get into theatre?
I discovered theatre “thanks to the war”. Saying this could seem odd but in fact when during the civil war in Lebanon that lasted from 1975 to 1990, we were often confined to spend many nights and days in shelters. Driven by the instinct of survive, some friends and I used improvisational forms of arts to transform this sad confinement into a jovial celebration of solidarity and resilience – there I experienced the power of arts. And when I saw the first performance of Al Hakawati theatre, where some of my former amateur shelter friends got professionally enrolled, I discovered my real passion. While I was studying biology and genetics I was sure that I wanted to be a theatre maker and I applied to the Faculty of Beaux Arts to study acting – this is how the beautiful adventure began.
Do you have any words of wisdom for those wanting to make theatre?
Follow your instincts no matter what.
Why should everyone see Jogging?
Because Jogging is an interesting celebration of artistic freedom of expression, I would rather change the question: nobody “should” see Jogging, but anybody interested in seeing a good piece of art, in critical thinking, and in challenging cliches especially his or her own prejudices, is warmly invited to see the performance.
Don’t miss Jogging at Gate Theatre, from 8 – 10 July, 7pm.