Amina Rizq

Veteran of Egyptian stage and screen
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The Independent Online

Amina Mohammed Rizq, actress: born Tanta, Egypt 10 April 1910; member of the Egyptian Senate 1991-2003; died Cairo 24 August 2003.

At the opening night of the play Al-Arnab al-Aswad ("Black Rabbit") in Cairo three years ago, the full house at the Vanguard Theatre gave the longest ever standing ovation in the 160-year history of modern Egyptian theatre. There were half a dozen curtain calls to salute the veteran actress Amina Rizq who, at the age of 91, was making a return to the stage after 25 years' absence.

In a career spanning 81 years, Rizq appeared in over 500 stage plays, from Greek tragedies to modern works, as well as acting in 250 films. She won several national and international awards and in 1991 became a member of the upper house of the Egyptian parliament, where she served until her death.

Her role in Al-Arnab al-Aswad was demanding - a crippled, cold-hearted, domineering mother; the play was a complicated psychological thriller written in the 1960s to symbolise the control of intellectuals and artists through manipulation and psychological terror during Nasser's dictatorship. Rizq's delivery of the symbolic short lines, with Pinteresque pauses, was captivating.

She developed her talents as a teenager in silent movies of the 1920s, like her sensual portrait of "Suad the Gypsy" in Suad el-Ghagariyah (1928). Since her starring role in 1932 in Egypt's first "talkie", the romantic comedy Awlad el zawat (The Aristocrats), the critics had noted her ability to express facially a maelstrom of human emotions, in hundreds of films and from 1958 on television. However, theatre remained her passion.

Born in 1910 in Tanta, 80 miles north of Cairo, the daughter of a civil servant, the young Amina Rizq showed a talent for acting, dance and reciting poetry before her class-mates at primary school. Her role-model was her aunt - Amina Mohammed - who had fallen in love with the performing arts when in 1896 she attended the screening of the first film shown in Alexandria, and went on to play some minor theatrical and cinematic roles. Following Mohammed Rizq's death in 1918, the orphaned eight-year-old Amina Rizq was fostered by her aunt, who moved her to Cairo, with its dazzling lights and theatres, and home to a budding film industry that would eventually become the fourth largest in the world.

Rizq had to wait four years for her first stage role alongside her aunt at the Roudh-elFarag theatre. She was only 14 when she played a leading role in Rasputin in 1924 with the Raamsis Troupe, founded by Youssef Wahby, a method actor of gigantic stature, whose contribution to Egyptian theatre was comparable to that of Garrick or Olivier in English theatre.

Rizq, who was fascinated by Wahby, never married. "No man with enough understanding in his heart could be found," said Rizq in her last interview. Gossip columnists never ceased to speculate about her passionate four-decade love affair with Wahby - three times married himself. She always denied it, but failed to sue publications which reported the affair.

Most of her cinematic roles from the Second World War onwards were as mothers - especially in screen versions of the Nobel prizewinner Naguib Mahfouz's novels. She won a state prize in 1944 for her role in El Boassa, an adaptation of Les Misérables.

Few actresses could match Rizq's colourful stage career. When the Raamsis Troupe went on long tours - to the Levant, Turkey, Europe and Latin America - they would perform a repertoire of more than two dozen plays. Their summer season in Alexandria was made up of 30, one for each night - mainly translations of classics by Racine, Hugo, Dostoevsky and Marlowe, Shakespeare and Greek tragedy. Rizq would move with amazing ease - often from the matinée to the evening performance - between Juliet and Lady Macbeth, Ophelia and Gertrude, Electra or Helen of Troy; always receiving a standing ovation.

She would learn the whole play by heart, and often played several parts. During the 10 weeks of her final illness, she passed the time in hospital by reciting whole plays. Her fans are debating which part she was reciting when her final curtain call came.

Adel Darwish