Mokhallad Rasem

Mokhallad Rasem

Mokhallad Rasem (b. 1981) is an actor and director who was born and trained in Bagdad. The war in Iraq changed the course of his life, and since 2005 he has been living and working in Belgium. He made a name for himself with the dazzling and physical Irakese geesten, which was constructed in an associative and fragmentary manner. He joined the team of Toneelhuis theatre-makers on 1 January 2013. Whereas at first he mostly concentrated on classical European repertory, over the course of time he has taken a more documentary approach. Projects like Body Revolution and Zielzoekers show an exceptional sensitivity for what being uprooted does to a person. Gripping, universal, and stubbornly hopeful.

Mokhallad Rasem was trained as a director and actor in Bagdad, where he also made his first productions. But the war in Iraq changed the course of his life and for the last eight years he has been living and working in Belgium. His work for the theatre is breathtaking, associative and fragmentary in construction, clear and expressive in its ideas. His is a new voice on the theatre scene. He made a name for himself with Irakese Geesten (Iraqi Ghosts, creative award Theater aan Zee 2010, selected for the Vlaams Theaterfestival 2010) and with (Facebook) (KunstenfestivaldesArts 2011).

Since January 1st 2013 he has been a permanent theatre-maker with Toneelhuis where he is initially concentrated on the European repertoire: Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Othello and Romeo and Juliet. Rather than staging productions that are faithful to the original script, Mokhallad Rasem selects key themes from the plays and uses them to create his own world in which image, silence and the physical presence of the performers are as important as the words and the story. Romeo & Julia was premièred at the Bourla theatre in April 2013. It was also shown at the 2013 Salzburg Festival as part of the Young Directors project and in August of that year Mokhallad Rasem was chosen by the jury as the winner out of the final shortlist of four. At the end of the 2013-14 season Mokhallad invited each of four theatre-maker friends (Lotte van den Berg, Yousif Abbas, Kristian Al Droubi and Gökhan Shapolski Girginol) to make a 20-minute show on the theme of waiting. The result, Waiting, was shown at a one-night festival and then went on tour. Mokhallad Rasem’s own contribution to Wachten (Waiting) won third prize at the BE FESTIVAL in Birmingham in 2014, which led to an extensive tour of the United Kingdom and Spain that same year. Djinny was premièred on November 2nd 2013, during the 2013-14 season. This enchanting children’s show about absence was produced by De Maan and directed by Mokhallad. In December 2013 Mokhallad directed the shadow show Life's but a walking shadow for ’t Arsenaal in Mechelen as part of the GEN2020 festival. April 2014 brought the première of Mokhallad’s second Shakespeare production with Toneelhuis: Hamlet Symphony, in which he paid tribute to his late father.

In the autum of 2014 Rasem directed Closed Curtains, a play about the agonies of the banned Iranian film-maker Jafar Panahi (a t'arsenaal mechelen and Theater Malpertuis coproduction).

With a number of performers from the Middle East and North Africa, in February 2015 he made Body Revolution for Toneelhuis, an installation and performance about the effects of violence and suffering on the body. Rasem’s version of Shakespeare’s classic Othello for three actors followed in March 2015. In the autumn of 2015 Mokhallad Rasem directed an adaptation of Coetzee’s The Childhood of Jesus. In the spring of 2016 he directed PAX Europa, a DNA (NL), t,arsenaal and Toneelhuis coproduction. In meantime Mokhallad Rasem began working on a number of new projects: Zielzoekers, a performance/documentary that gave a voice to asylum-seekers in Menen (2017, produced by Theater Malpertuis); This production had two spinoffs in 2018: Zielzoekers - de installatie and Zielzoekers- triptiek, in which Rasem speaks with different asylum-seekers in each location (respectively Valenciennes and Paris). Looking for Oresteia, with presentations in Besançon, Le Mans and Bagdad in 2017; Young Baghdad, a documentary about young Iraqis’ dreams which premiered in the fall of 2017. Meanwhile, Wachten and Body Revolution continue to travel far afield and Othello can also sporadically be seen on European stages.

From 2017-2018 season on, Mokhallad is presenting the surprising show Delivery Theatre, theatre made-to-order. “With great verve, the show succeeds in reaching people for whom the threshold would otherwise be too high.” – Gilles Michiels in De Standaard, 8 November 2017. “That’s the message of Delivery Theatre: art doesn’t stop because life doesn’t stop, because people are resilient, no matter what their misfortunes.” – Evelyne Coussens in De Morgen, 8 November 2017. Delivery Theatre remains on the repertoire. He also directed Mother Song, an Italian-Austrian project about the suffering and stamina of women. And with Tijdelijk, Mokhallad worked with Sofie de Smet and a number of young Syrian refugees who are now studying in Belgium or working in the area of theatre and trauma therapy.

In the 2018-2019 season, Mokhallad Rasem created two new projects: in Audition for Life/Art, Rasem, together with Helge Letonja from the German company Steptext, among others, investigated the parallels between an actor who auditions for a role and artists from elsewhere who want to make a career for themselves in a new country. Directly after that he worked with Kuno Bakker (Dood Paard, NL) on De verse tijd (Brand-New Time), a search for common ground between two ‘errant souls’ who, for different reasons, have left their homeland. This show scored points in both the press and the audience as being exceptionally fresh and authentic. And so naturally it was reprised in the 2019-2020 season. In October 2019 Mokhallad Rasem additionally made Dagboek van een leeg bed, a solo performance in which he turned diary entries into an extremely personal narrative, inviting us to reflect on life and how we look at it.

In the spring of 2021, Kuno Bakker and Mokhallad Rasem created Homemade, a sequel to De verse tijd. Here, they build a place to live by asking themselves: Where do you feel at home? In the 2021-2022 season, both makers (together with Janneke Remmers) are realizing the third part of what has become a lighthearted trilogy about ‘how to live’: Looking for Habibi will be a show about the meaning of love in our lives (April 2022). 

In October 2021, Ik ben mijn straat is having its premiere. Here, Jessa Wildemeersch and Mokhallad Rasem use words, images and memories to make a connection between their respective social environments in Belgium and Iraq. Jessa and Mokhallad also are creating a version of this show that takes the audience outdoors on a walk through the streets. 

Mokhallad Rasem is closing off the 2021-2022 season with his participation in Lonely Hearts Club Band, a collective project that brings all of the Toneelhuis makers together on the Bourla stage in June 2022. 

Meanwhile, Zielzoekers (and its spinoffs) continue to tour, as do Delivery Theatre and Dagboek van een leeg bed.

Productions from/with ‘Mokhallad Rasem’

Zielzoekers: Open Door Event Archive

Zielzoekers: Open Door

Theater Malpertuis / Toneelhuis / Rode Kruisopvangcentrum voor asielzoekers Menen / cc De Steiger Menen / Mokhallad Rasem

Looking for Oresteia Theatre Archive

Looking for Oresteia

Mokhallad Rasem / Toneelhuis / Siwa Plateforme - Laboratoire / Centre Dramatique National de Besançon / Nationaal Theater van Bagdad

Wachten Theatre Archive


Toneelhuis / Moussem Nomadisch Art Center / Mokhallad Rasem