The newly re-opened state-run Egyptian National Theater has appointed actor Youssef Ismail as its director.
The National Theater, which has been closed for six years following a fire in 2008, was officially re-opened on December 20, 2014, following several delays to its inauguration.
Ismail started his acting career in the beginning of the 1990s in theater, television and the occasional film. His film and television performancess were largely as secondary characters, but in 2002 he had a memorable theatrical role as Saad Zaghloul, leader of the 1919 Egyptian revolution.
Ismail was a supporter of the 25 January revolution and participated in the demonstrations that followed the ouster of Hosni Mubarak.
The National Theater, a heritage building located in Cairo’s Attaba district, saw its first performance — by Syrian-Turkish playwright Abu Khalil Qabbani — in 1885. It hosted several important performances from the Khedival era until its closure in 2008. The fire, which caused significant damage to the building but no casualties, was not deemed suspicious.
State-run newspaper Al-Ahram reported the Culture Minister Gaber Asfour as saying the theater renovations cost LE105 million to complete, although the cost had initially been estimated at merely LE55 million.
Since its closure the area hosting it, Azbakiya, has changed drastically. While it always had an informal market of second-hand books, it now hosts a large-scale informal market with all kinds of commodities. The neighborhood is also home to the Al-Taleea Experimental Theater (built in 1962) and the Cairo Puppet Theater (built in 1959), both also state-run culture spaces.
Asfour told presenter Lamees al-Hadidi in a television interview in December that he was working with Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb and the “Urban Harmony Sector” within the Culture Ministry to renovate the entire Azbakiya area and remove the informal market which has grown up around it.
Ismail succeeds former TV actor Khaled al-Thahaby as the theater’s director. Thahaby, who was director until the 2008 closure, was presented with an honorary award in a ceremony at the newly opened theater on Saturday, January 10.
The ceremony included the performance currently showing at the theater, entitled Bahlam Ya Masr (I Dream, Egypt), in which Ismail co-stars with singer Ali al-Haggar and actress Marwa Nagy. The play is written by Noeman Ashour on the life of scholar and renaissance intellectual Rifaa al-Tahtawy, and directed by Essam al-Sayid.