Beirut has always had a vibrant theatre and music culture. Throughout the decades, the city continually set the benchmark for artistic expression in the Middle East, attracting artists and audiences from around the region. It’s had its ups and downs though – what was once a mainstream activity slowly became one for a niche crowd. As the audiences started to dwindle, landmark theatres in Beirut were forced to close their doors. Over the past few years however, there has been a local theatrical renaissance of sorts and other theatres have appeared to fill the cultural gap.
In 2011, Metro Al Madina, an independent theatre, featuring original shows and performances opened in Hamra, bringing its own brand of art and music to the Beirut scene. Founded in 2011 by Hisham Jaber and a number of partners, Metro Al Madina was envisioned as a cross between a place of culture and entertainment. Essentially a cabaret, the experience of Metro Al Madina begins as you make your way down the stairs away from the horns and traffic of Hamra. The two flights of stairs immediately disconnect you from the street above, to transport you to a place that feels anything but 3 years old. In fact, it’s almost like you’ve time travelled back to the 70s, when Beirut was a city of tucked away venues and secret hideaways.
We met with Hisham Jaber in the green room. It’s exactly what you would expect – posters cover the walls and costumes from every show are hung, waiting for their turn in the spotlight.
So what inspired Hisham and his partners to start Metro Al Madina? “Our initial concept was basically entertainment, but entertainment done properly…from every perspective: production, lighting, sound, acting, costumes…the way it’s supposed to be. And all at an affordable price,” Jaber explained.
Over the past three years, the venue has progressed to having a show every night of the week, ranging from plays and cinema to concerts, which include oriental music, hip hop, rock and a variety of other genres. Metro Al Madina also produces its own shows, such as the ever-popular Hishik Bishik Show. The show, which is a nostalgic ode to popular Egyptian music from decades gone by, has had over 170 performances and is still going strong today. The night is always fully booked at least one week in advance. In addition to the Hishik Bishik Show, the in-house productions include a dedication to the music of Abdel Karim el Shaar, a monthly show featuring a 2-hour performance of one Um Kulthum song, as well as a set featuring Sandy Chamoun performing songs by Sheikh Imam. From concept to production, they aim to produce well-thought out shows that they are passionate about. Whether producing or selecting their performances, they look for original artists and pieces that will have a unique offering to their audience.
This weekend will see a special performance called World Wide Wahhab, featuring 10 German artists, in collaboration with Sandy Chamoun, performing their interpretation of Mohammed Abdel Wahhab’s music.
The question is, does Metro Madina see itself as a place that will be part of a new revival of theatre and culture? Hisham Jaber concluded, “We’re just working on things that we love; that mean something to us. We started Metro Al Madina and no one knew about us – but then people started coming because they liked what they were watching. We’ve earned a reputation as a place that you’re guaranteed entertainment – we see ourselves as the middle ground between entertainment and culture. We just want to offer something that we love and that people can connect with.”
To find out more about Metro Al Madina, visit their facebook page (www.facebook.com/MetroAlMadina) or call them on +961 76 309363.