About Playwright Saadallah Wannous

Saadallah WannousSaadallah Wannous (1941-1997) is the most significant, contemporary Syrian playwright and, along with Tawfiq Al-Hakim and Alfred Farag, one of the most important modern playwrights from the Arab world. His plays include Evening Party for the Fifth of June (Haflat Samar min ajl al-Khamis min Huzyran), The Adventure of Mamluk Jaber’s Head (Mughamarat Ra's al Mamluk Jaber), The King is the King (Al-Malik Huwa Al-Malik), The Rape (Al-Ightisab), and The Drunken Days (Al-Ayyam Al-Makhmura). He is recognized especially for having used theatre--like Brecht and Boal—to address charged social and political questions. In 1996, the year before his death, he was chosen by UNESCO as the first playwright from the Arab world to give the address for World Theatre Day.

PLAYWRIGHT'S STATEMENT (as written in program notes for a production in Beirut in 1994):

When I began to write Rituals of Signs and Transformations I had a story that needed to be developed. But from the moment I began to write the first scene I found that my usual way of writing dissolved. A spring of feelings suddenly welled up inside me. I was amazed, I trembled and my breathing quickened. No... I'm not talking here about inspiration; I'm not one of those who expect or believe in such things. What had erupted inside me was the layers of my obsessions and stored-up feelings. The doors holding back these feelings began to wear away and loosen. It seems that the changes that had been occurring under the surface of my long depression matured and, without any forewarning, overflowed their banks. This is not to say that there was a `coup d'etat' against the play's stance or vision, but the stance and vision were emphasised and broadened.

After that moment, which overwhelmed me internally, my relation with the text was a mixture of mental and physical reactions. The characters began to shed their skins and advance towards their frightful and intoxicatedly truth-telling nakedness. I too was peeling off my skin and diving into my nakedness. In bewilderment and fear I was probing the hidden and repressed mysteries that had lain neglected in the darkness of my soul.

The characters' choices and transformations were not merely actions that I created and harmonised according to a specific scheme; they and I were connected in an electrical field. Although I never lost the ability to distance myself from my characters which the technique of writing demands, I was continually overpowered by a synthesis of distance and unity. This was because in this work I never ceased, not even for moment, to trace the mysteries of these characters and their search for freedom, or to examine deeply my own freedom and my own mysteries.


Here are links to essays and articles that shed light on Wannous' work and his contributions to Arab theatre.

Sa'dallah Wannous: A Life in Theater by By Manal A. Swairjo in Al Jadid, 1996.

Sadallah Wannous' Approach to Theater by Fatme Sharafeddine Hassan in Al Jadid, 1996.

Sadallah Wannus: His Last Five Years, His Greatest as Playwright by Ali Alsouleman in Al Jadid, 2001.

An analytical study of the theatre of the Syrian playwright Saadallah Wannous, with particular emphasis on the plays written after the 1967 war by Ali Ali `Ajil Naji Al-Anezi, a PhD thesis, The University of Sheffield, 2006.

An analytical study of Sadallah Wannous’s contribution towards defining an Arabic theatre in the Twentieth Century by Nesrin Alrefaai, a PhD thesis, University of Warwick, 2009.

A revolutionary playwright for the Middle East by Thanassis Cambanis in The Boston Globe, 2014.