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The enduring legacy of Emirati actor and stage pioneer Mohammed Al Hamar

Emirati theatre legend Mohammed Al Hamar passed away on Sunday, September 20.

He leaves behind a remarkable legacy that includes co-founding the prestigious Sharjah National Theatre, as well as mentoring generations of Emirati theatre talent.

Many of the people he helped, from actors to stage directors, have gone online to pay tribute to the giant of the local stage.

“The mighty artist Mohammed Al Hamar, one of the founders of UAE theatrical movement in the Sharjah National Theatre is in God’s protection,” said Emirati actor Habib Ghuloom. “We ask the Almighty to have mercy on him.”

Playwright Ahmed Abdel Razek also mourned his friend and collaborator. “My creative brothers at the Sharjah National Theatre, my condolences to you for a man who was a brother to me before he was a colleague or friend.”

One of the founders of Emirati theatre

Al Hamar was part of the first generation of Emirati actors who laid the groundwork for the country’s theatre scene. As part of the founding team of the Sharjah National Theatre, he took part in various productions that told Emirati and Gulf stories of families, friendship and a rapidly changing region.

Many of his seminal performances were in the mid-1970s, the biggest of which was his star turn in 1977’s Shams Al Nahar, a play mixing regional colloquialism with poetic dialogue and attended by Sharjah ruler Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi.

Shams Al Nahar remains a landmark production for the UAE theatre scene. Its success showed both the depth of talent in an emerging nation, as well as the appetite for local material.

It was one of the first Emirati productions to tour nationally, with several shows performed in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. The play, which involved playwrights and actors Majed Al Suwaidi and Muhammad Hamdan, went on to form the nucleus of the Emirati scene for decades to come.

‘He would combine work and art’

The stage pioneer watched all this with pride.

According to Iraqi playwright and director Abdul Ilah Abdul Qader, who published numerous books on Emirati theatre, Al Hamar was driven by a quest to see the local scene flourish.

This reportedly meant holding a full-time job while indulging in his love for the stage. In his tribute, Emirati actor Abdullah Saleh recalled how Al Hamar’s sunny demeanour sustained him in the hard early years of the Emirati stage.

“He was influential, hardworking and [a] cheerful personality,” he told Al Roeya. “I remember we participated in the play Nas Wa Nas for the Dubai Folk Theatre. At the time the theatre moved to a new location and it was not ready. So we did the rehearsals on the stage of the Sudanese Club.”

Veteran actor Bilal Abdullah, who worked with Al Hamar in a number of stage productions and Emirati television dramas in the 1980s, recalled how he was an example to local artists on how to mix art with craft.

“He would combine work and art, where he goes to his job in the morning and then is present in the theatre in the evening,” he told Al Roeya. “He also showed us that exercising your passion did not end at the final curtain. He was always keen to sit with colleagues to discuss ways to promote theatre works in the UAE.”

While Al Hamar was less involved over the last two decades, his contribution to the country’s cultural scene is indisputable. It is a legacy crystallised in the evolution of the Emirati theatre scene, which now has multiple festivals and stages across the emirates. His was an example of how to live an artistic life on and off the stage. Take a bow, indeed.