The beautiful, disturbing view from the 88th floor
“The beach in all its white-sanded glory. A palm tree reflected in the windscreen of a moving car. A man swings a golf club. An Emirati couple having dinner, he talks – she laughs. Fireworks cascade down skyscrapers.”
That’s Dubai through the eyes of a team selling property in ever-higher towers, conjuring up a desert dream.
There is, of course, an underside, too – of South Asian workers trapped in arduous, often dangerous jobs, in a repressive labour system, separated from their families, immobilised by confiscation of their passports.
British-Lebanese playwright Carmen Nasr yokes these disparate lives together in Dubailand and forces us to look and decide: is it paradise up there on the 88th floor, amidst the twinkling lights (“I’m in the future and I’m building one of the highest buildings, in the best city in the world… Everything here is beautiful.”)? Or is it exploitation, part of a severely policed, sanitised world?
What the play doesn’t explicitly pell out is that the two perspectives are both perspectives of migrants: the poor, predominantly Asian migrants who are shovelled into Dubai to build its brave new world, and who account for perhaps 70 per cent of population, and the better-off, primarily Western migrants who are business executives or residents, forming about three per cent of the population. The latter like to call themselves expats, but, like their fellow migrants, they have gone to live in another country because they believe it will improve their lives.
The plot unfolds thanks to the intervention of that well-word cliché, a visiting journalist, and there’s little depth of character, but Nasr gives both viewpoints some good lines and moves events along with the speed and smoothness of a high-rise elevator. She also effectively spears odd quirks of expat behaviour and excitable humour.
It’s entertaining and provides a provocative starting point for a post-show dinner discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of Dubai building sites for the territory’s 570,000 imported workers.
It really makes you think about that fabulous view from the 88th floor.
* Finborough Road, London SW10, until 21 February. Info: 0844 847 165/ http://www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk/blog comments powered by Disqus