Saddiki, Tayeb (1938–)

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Saddiki, Tayeb

Playwright and director Tayeb Saddiki is considered among the foremost Moroccan dramatists of the twentieth century. Trained in classical Western theater, Saddiki also embraced traditional Moroccan theatrical styles, fusing the two into a path-breaking combination of Western and traditional Moroccan theater. Known for staging spectacles played to large crowds in big arenas, Saddiki developed a style of festive theater that became a popular favorite in the late 1960s and 1970s.


Saddiki was born in 1938 in Essaouaira, a city south of Rabat on Morocco's Atlantic coast. In the early 1950s, when Morocco was still under French colonial control, Saddiki began drama studies at Morocco's official French-directed theater program. Operating under the aegis of Morocco's Department of Youth and Sports, the program was directed by French dramatist André Voisin, who trained Saddiki and many of his contemporaries in classical European-style theater direction and performance.

In 1956, the year Morocco gained formal independence from France, Saddiki left to briefly pursue drama studies in France. Performing with Voisin's company, known as the Troupe du Théâtre Marocain, he participated in the 1956 Festival of Paris. He then worked in Rennes at the Centre Dramatique de l'Ouest with its founder, French dramatist Hubert Gignoux. Saddiki also served as stage manager at the Théâtre Nationale Populaire in Paris, which at that time was under the direction of French actor and director Jean Vilar.

Saddiki returned to Morocco in 1957 where, at the urging of the Moroccan workers' union (Union Marocaine du Travail), he formed the Workers' Theatre (Thé-âtre Travailliste). During the company's short-lived run, Saddiki staged works by French playwright Jean-François Regnard, Russian playwright Nikolai Gogol, Egyptian playwright tawfiq al-hakim, and Greek dramatist Aristophanes. It was at this time Saddiki began formulating his own adaptations of Greek and European plays, translating them into formal and colloquial Arabic. His adaptation of Molière's The Hypochondriac (Le Malade Imaginaire) was Morocco's official entry in the 1958 Festival of the Theatre of Nations in Paris.

Following the 1959 dissolution of the Workers' Theatre, Saddiki returned to the Department of Youth and Sports, where the independent Moroccan government had established the Centre d'Art Dramatique as the new official center of Moroccan theater. Its company, the Troupe du Centre Marocain de Recherches, was headed by Moroccan dramatists Ahmed Tayeb el Alj—another major figure within Moroccan theater and a prolific playwright and translator of Western plays—and Farid Ben M'barek.

Saddiki was invited to Casablanca in 1960 to form a troupe at the Théâtre Municipal de Casablanca. Through this troupe, Saddiki mounted productions of works by Jean Canolle, Sacha Guitry, and other European playwrights. In 1963, Saddiki launched the Saddiki Troupe, which he based in Casablanca in a separate venue from the Théâtre Municipal. In Casablanca, he began exploring traditional forms of Moroccan theater, including the centuries-old halqa style of public performance. Saddiki became deeply interested in Moroccan oral traditions, both theatrical and poetic, and over the next few years would use these influences to break away from formal Western-style theater.

His exploration of traditional Moroccan and Arabic art forms, coupled with his Western theatrical training, resulted in his first important original play, Diwan Sidi Abd al-Rahman al-Majdub. The play, written in 1965, was based on the poems of sixteenth-century Moroccan poet Abd al-Rahman al-Majdub, and it marked a significant divergence for both Saddiki and Moroccan theater, generally. To stage the play, Saddiki took a particular form of Moroccan performance-in-the-round, the halqa, and brought it into a Western-style theater. The play and its physical arrangement engaged the audience in the way of traditional Moroccan public performances, whereas its staging incorporated elements of Western technique.

Morocco's 1967 Festival of the Throne was where Saddiki premiered Diwan. It was an enormously popular success, and it ushered in the beginning of Morocco's festive theater movement—a movement that transplanted often boisterous traditional Moroccan performance styles into Western-style theatrical settings. As its name suggests, festive theater used national and local festivals as occasions to present these traditionally inspired plays. Saddiki's signature style was to stage his plays in large arenas at these festivals; this particular format helped him gain widespread popularity in the 1970s. Diwan was not Saddiki's first original play to be performed, however. In 1966, the Troupe du Théâtre Municipal de Casablanca staged Fi Tariq (On the road), Saddiki's comedic commentary on the imposition of both tradition and modernity on the lives of ordinary Moroccans.


Name: Tayeb Saddiki

Birth: 1938, Essaouaira, Morocco

Nationality: Moroccan

Education: Drama studies at Morocco's official French-directed theater program, early 1950s


  • 1950s: Studies theater under André Voisin and the Department of Youth and Sports
  • 1956: Travels to France to perform with the Troupe du Théâtre Marocain
  • 1957: Returns to Morocco; forms the Worker's Theatre troupe
  • 1960: Establishes the Théâtre Municipal de Casablanca
  • 1963: Forms the Saddiki Troupe, a group unaffiliated with official theater
  • 1967: Debuts Diwan Sidi Abd al-Rahman al-Madjub at Morocco's Festival of the Throne
  • 1971: Debuts Maqqamat Badi Zaman al-Hamadani
  • 1974: Forms the People's Theatre (Masrah al-Nas), a traveling company
  • 1984: Directs and releases Zift, a film adaptation of his original play Fi Tariq
  • 1990s: Becomes artistic director of the Mogador theater in Casablanca

In 1964, Saddiki was named artistic director of the Théâtre National du Mohammad V and became the director of the Théâtre Municipal of Casablanca, a post he held until 1976. In 1971, he staged the grandiose Maqqamat Badi Zaman al-Hamadani, which, like Diwan, was based on the works of a traditional Moroccan poet (al-Hamadani). Similar to Diwan, the play was an outright success, sealing Saddiki's reputation as a master of festive theater. His company went on to perform several works by Moroccan playwrights in the 1970s, including plays by Azzedine Madani, Ahmed Abdeslam Bekkali, and Saddi-ki's brother, Saïd Saddiki.

Saddiki's troupe was re-formed in 1974 as the Masrah al-Nas (The people's theatre) and became a traveling company, performing in cities and villages around Morocco. In the late 1970s and 80s, however, political troubles in Morocco significantly weakened the theater scene, and Saddiki's troupe performed only sporadically after 1976. Saddiki then turned to film and other art forms for a period. In 1984, he adapted Fi Tariq into the film Zift (Asphalt), in which he played a supporting role.

Masrah al-Nas returned in the 1990s with the production of Saddiki's 1991 play, Les Sept Grains de Beauté (The seven seeds of beauty). Saddiki continued experimenting with mobile theater in the late 1990s. Two plays, Wa-law Kanat Fula and Jinan Shiba, were performed in a moving tent that allowed the plays to be executed in the same physical setting within different locations. Saddiki also began incorporating more fantastical themes into his work. His 1999 play, Suhur (Sorcery), is an example of this.

In the late 1990s, Saddiki became artistic director of the Mogador, a theater company in Casablanca whose development he helped finance. It replaced Casablanca's Théâtre Municipal, which authorities had demolished in 1984. The Mogador was designed as a performance arena and art gallery, and in the early twenty-first century has hosted a two-year program for training drama students.

Throughout his career, Saddiki has continued acting in addition to writing and directing, often appearing in his own plays and films. Other film appearances include roles in Omar Chraibi's L'Homme qui brodait des secrets (2001) and moustapha akkad's al-Risala (The message; 1976). He writes poetry and practices calligraphic art, and has works published in both fields.


Educated in the Western theatrical tradition, Saddiki's earliest influences include ancient Greek theater and the more modern European playwrights. Early in his career, Saddiki began translating and adapting Greek and European plays for the Arabic stage. He was the first playwright to adapt the works of Irish minimalist Beckett and French absurdist Eugene Ionesco for Arabic-speaking audiences.

Prior to independence, Moroccan dramatists had often—albeit clandestinely—used theater as a forum for nationalist and political expression. In the turbulent political climate of the 1960s and 1970s, however, increasing government control over theater and entertainment led (state-supported) dramatists to all but abandon political commentary in their work. As did many of his contemporaries, Saddiki turned instead to social critique. His stage adaptations of Aristophanes' Lysistrata and The Assembly of Women, for example, were performed as a critique of the situation of Moroccan women. His reworking of Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot—transformed into Waiting for Mabrouk—was also done with Moroccan society in mind.


I have staged, in adaptation, many plays of the Western theatre…. But I didn't think I could do theatre without dealing with the Greeks. I wanted to render homage to the Greek theatre as the first theatre that has come down to us in written form. I had to start with the Greeks and especially with Aristophanes. Aristophanes is the essence of Greek theatre, a social theatre par excellence that speaks to people in a very direct way. When I read his plays I find myself in a society, in my society. Indeed, we must not forget that the West was introduced to Greek civilization through the translated writings of Arab authors. For five centuries the West knew the Greek plays through Arabic translation. Our culture enabled the West to understand Greek culture.


Saddiki's primary contribution has been carving out a distinct identity for modern Moroccan theater. By the 1950s, French control of official Moroccan theater had led to the establishment and institutionalization of formal French-style theater. After independence, Saddiki and his generation began introducing indigenous and informal Moroccan theatrical styles into their plays and productions. Saddiki and his postindependence contemporaries also reworked European plays into dialectical Moroccan Arabic. Ben Jonson's Volpone, which Saddiki adapted in 1960 for the Moroccan national Troupe du Centre Marocain de Recherches Dramatiques, is among the early plays he rewrote in dialect.

In developing his theatrical identity, Saddiki has particularly been influenced by the traditional Moroccan al-halqa style of performance. Al-halqa (literally, the circle) is a versatile style of public theater that takes place in the round, with actors (and often dancers and acrobats) performing in the center of a circle formed by the audience. Traditionally performed in marketplaces and city gates, the tone of Al-halqa performances can range from highbrow to vulgar, and the stories portrayed can include mythical and historical narratives as well as tales adapted from the Qu'ran, the Sunna (tradition of the Prophet Muhammad), and local folklore. Al-halqa performances involve a great deal of audience participation, something rarely seen in traditional European productions.

Saddiki has also incorporated the l'basat tradition of Morocco into his plays. L'basat, sometimes known as bsat, is more closely related to Western theatrical styles than Al-halqa and is a relatively more recent development in Moroccan traditional theater, having first appeared in the latter half of the eighteenth century. L'basat performances take place on a fixed stage and can incorporate a few dozen themes within a single showing. Éléphants et Pantalons (Elephants and trousers), Saddiki's comedic play of 1997, was an adaptation of l'basat for the modern Moroccan stage. Saddiki's incorporation of and experimentation with al-halqa, l'basat, and other Moroccan traditional forms broke with the orthodox practice of writing plays that strictly mirrored Western theater.

In the creation of his original plays, Saddiki has drawn on the poems of Abd al-Rahman al-Majdub and Badi Zaman al-Hamadani, who themselves wrote on Arab and Islamic history and myth. He has also been drawn to the stories of the Thousand and One Arabian Nights. These influences reflect an interest in orally transmitted stories and poetry, which Saddiki has stated helped him connect to the traditions of Moroccan performance following his long exposure to Western theater.

Saddiki has also continued to draw on European and classical Greek influences for inspiration, with Aristophanes and Molière among the most significant. Saddiki's attachment to Molière inspired his 1994 play, Molière, ou l'Amour de l'Humanité (Molière, or the love of humanity). Molière also appeared as a character in his 1997 Nous Sommes Fait Pour Nous Entendre (We are made to understand each other).


Known for writing in Arabic, Moroccan colloquial Arabic, and French—sometimes within the same play—Saddiki has made his work accessible to a wide range of audiences. His plays have been performed in Europe and across North Africa; his first major play, Diwan Sidi Abd al-Rahman al-Madjub, has been restaged several dozen times in and around North Africa since its premiere in the late 1960s. More recently, Nous sommes fait pour nous entendre, a historical piece about relations between Morocco and France, has been staged in both countries, as has his 1990 play Le Diner de Gala (The gala dinner). With a rapidly growing Moroccan diasporic population in Spain and the Netherlands, his plays have also gained popularity and exposure in those nations.


Saddiki was among the first wave of Moroccan dramatists to develop an indigenous Moroccan modern theater independent from formal Western theater. Saddiki institutionalized what had previously been informal Moroccan theater styles, elevating them in status and transforming their use in indoor arenas. His work and the work of others in his generation permanently changed the landscape of Moroccan theater, allowing dramatists more creative (if not political) freedom in their work.


Amine, Khalid. "Crossing Borders: Al-halqa Performance in Morocco from the Open Space to the Theatre Building." TDR: The Drama Review 45, no. 2 (Summer 2001): 55-69.

Kotzamani, Marina. "Tayeb Saddiki." PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art 28, no. 2 (2006): 38-41.

Ouzi, Abdelwahed. Le Theatre au Maroc: Structures et Tendances. Casablanca, Morocco: Editions Toubkal, 1997.

Sahli, Kamal. "Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia." In History of Theatre in Africa, edited by Martin Banham. West Nyack, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

                                            Nora Achrati