You Bury Me

Reviewer's rating

What happens when you love someone to death, love them so hard you don’t want to live without them? Do you run away, are you crushed by it, do you hope you can make it work? And what if that someone isn’t a person but an entire city, heaving with hysteria, sweat, laughter and love?

You Bury Me is a love letter to just such a city, Cairo in 2015, still reeling from the aftershocks of the Arab Spring as the dream of a better future begins to fade and disillusionment sets in. In the dying embers of hope, six connected characters navigate friendship, love and loss as they come of age in this overwhelming city.

All six are experiencing feelings of love that risk a sort of death, the death of their reputation, or hope, or a more literal decease. They care too much, or not enough. They are a beautiful reminder of how deeply we feel when we are young, and a window into how treacherous navigating the innocent complications of growing up can be under a repressive regime.

The play is a lesson in memory, and remembering as well. How many of us avidly followed news of the Arab Spring in 2011, and yet how many of us still think to remember those events? In Europe we watched from afar and then forgot, going back to our daily lives; You Bury Me reminds us that not everyone had that luxury. In some ways, it is a stark tale of the loss of innocence, on both a personal and global scale.

Although first conceived eight years ago, it remains an urgently relevant play. One particular storyline involves an attempted escape to Europe on a raft – achingly pertinent in the week the UK’s government sought to demonise and criminalise an entire desperate section of humanity seeking humanity here in just such a way.

Despite its weighty themes, the play is far from a worthy slog. It is stuffed with moments of joyous dancing, the tight hugs of friendship and gags galore. Disaster and fear may never be far away, but neither are laughter and joy, as Ahlam’s rapid script expertly treads the delicate line between comedy and tragedy. A constant theme of puerile humour recalls the best bits of The Inbetweeners, delivered expertly by the ensemble cast.

Each member of the cast sparks wonderfully off each other, bringing energy and emotion to characters that feel real and relatable. Throughout the play, they come together as Cairo itself, an Egyptian chorus commenting on events and keeping the audience up to speed. If the running time feels 10-minutes too stretched, and some of the writing feels a touch imprecise, these are small quibbles that are easily forgotten in the heart and humour of the whole.

A raw rendition of Nina Simone’s Ain’t Got No, I Got Life perhaps captures the spirit of You Bury Me at its best. What starts out as an awkwardly humorous solo becomes a life-affirming, loving duet before collapsing into despair. You Bury Me began life in 2015 as a way of telling the world about how the military dictatorship was crushing the hope of the Arab Spring. In 2023 it is a joyful, fearful reminder of how little some things have changed.