'The Cage' creators hope Kuwaiti Netflix show encourages more openness in relationships

Producer Abdullah Boushahri and director Jasem AlMuhanna wish the comedy series will inspire couples in the region to be more open about their issues

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Netflix’s first Kuwaiti series The Cage unravels the thorns and roses of marital life in a comedy that has clear influences from the Gulf country’s theatrical history.

The dramedy was released on the streaming platform on Friday. It tells the story of a family counsellor working with a couple to help them communicate better and empathise with each other in an effort to save their marriage. As the counsellor helps them rekindle their relationship, however, he faces struggles in his own personal life.

On paper, the premise sounds heavy but with a line-up of celebrated Kuwaiti actors, most of whom have a theatre background, the show is infused with the drama and slapstick of Kuwaiti theatre, such as that seen in the play Bye Bye London.

'The Cage' director Jasem AlMuhanna, left, and producer Abdullah Boushahri. Photo: Netflix

“The general concept of The Cage is simple,” series producer Abdullah Boushahri tells The National. “The show is about the relationship of a married couple who consult a relationship counsellor. But within this contains a multitude of issues and complexities that will resonate universally. The show is fun and light-hearted, and you could watch all eight episodes after each other.”

Boushahri says the concept of a relationship counsellor is still relatively new in the region.

“As a society, we need to converse more about our relationships and marriages," he says. "The Cage is a mirror to see ourselves and laugh at issues we live through. But also push people to appreciate the beautiful moments and not fixate on the negative. The show is, after all, about a couple that is at a dead end, on the verge of divorce and working to remember the foundations of their relationship.”

The show goes back and forth in time as the couple recount to the counsellor how they met and got married. The flashback scenes are filled with nostalgic elements that gleefully recall pre-social media romances in the region.

Director Jasem AlMuhanna says the fashion and pop culture of Kuwait in the 1980s and 1990s was a definite visual inspiration for the scenes set in the past.

Hussain AlMahdi and Rawan Mahdi play a married couple seeking counselling. Photo: Netflix

“The fashion, the cars, the events on television at the time all influenced the approach,” he says.

By alternating between hand-held cameras and more stable shots, AlMuhanna says he also wanted to visually differentiate the tension between the couple with the romance of their past.

One of the most challenging aspects, AlMuhanna and Boushahri say, was finding the right talents to take on the role of the counsellor as well as the married couple.

“We have several strong Kuwaiti talents who could have played these roles excellently,” AlMuhanna says. “We also had a lot of conversations about how old the counsellor should be, whether he should be older as he represents wisdom or more youthful so that he can follow the beat of the entire show.”

Showrunners struck a balance with Khaled Ameen. The Kuwaiti actor takes on the role of the tasteful and patient relationship counsellor who tries to mediate the couple’s issues and remind them of what made them fall in love in the first place. While encouraging openness and transparency to his patients, the counsellor, however, has burrowed his own feelings from those around him.

The couple, played by Rawan Mahdi and Hussain AlMahdi, in a flashback scene. Photo: Netflix

AlMuhanna says the team was first considering older actors such as Mohammed Al-Mansor to play the counsellor. The luminary Kuwaiti actor, 74, would have been physically how the team envisioned the character, but when they brought Ameen for the role, AlMuhanna says it was clear he was right.

“We wanted to pose the question as to why we don’t talk about our relationship issues,” AlMuhanna says. “It became evident that it didn’t matter how old the counsellor was as long as they were professional and had high spirits.”

For the main couple, Hussain AlMahdi and Rawan Mahdi were selected, in some part because of their contrasting acting backgrounds. While both have starred in several Kuwaiti productions on stage and screen, Mahdi is famous for her dramatic roles, in contrast to AlMahdi’s penchant for comedy. The pairing was perfect for the dramedy, says AlMuhanna.

Though it’s a Kuwaiti show, Boushahri says The Cage has many themes that will hopefully make it universally appealing.

“These are not subjects exclusive to Kuwait or the Gulf and Arab world,” he says. “These are moments that every couple lives through. There are beautiful moments but also ups and downs. In the show, we’re portraying it in a different way, away from the heaviness of the issues and instead showing them in a lighthearted way.”

Updated: September 25, 2022, 8:00 AM