Young love, clandestine meet-ups, midnight telephone conversations and a whole lot of slapstick theatre make Netflix’s first Kuwaiti series, The Cage, a heartwarming, funny and nostalgic watch.
The show, which premiered on the streaming platform on Friday, 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.
But as the counsellor helps them rekindle their relationship, he faces struggles in his own personal life.
Considering the show’s premise, it’s obvious that The Cage isn’t like most dramedies we’ve seen coming out of the region before. Marriage counsellors are not a trope in Arabic-language series and talking openly about relationship issues is not exactly the norm in Middle East societies.
This is what gives The Cage its edge and comedy. Hussain AlMahdi’s character Zaid is reticent about dragging out the skeletons from his marital closet even in front of a counsellor. For him, “marriage is a cage. Whether gold or silver or metal, it always rusts”.
His wife, Rawan, played by Rawan Mahdi, also seems somewhat ambivalent about salvaging the marriage, mostly because of her husband’s petulance, but nevertheless insists on seeking counselling. Therapy, after all, is their last resort. The counsellor, portrayed by Khaled Ameen, tries to mediate their issues and reminds the couple of what made them fall in love in the first place.
The show sways back and forth in time as the couple reminisce about how they met and got married. The flashback scenes are filled with nostalgic elements that gleefully recall the pre-social media romances in the region. These moments are driven by tropes you have probably seen seen in other Arab shows, but the humour as well as the vibrancy of the fashion and setting give The Cage its own unique twist.
The direction by Jasem Al-Muhanna is spot-on as well, alternating between a handheld camera for charged moments and stable shots for more pleasant recollections from the couple’s past.
However, the show makes a few storytelling choices that seem promising and stylistic but then fails to build on them. The counsellor breaks the fourth wall a few times in the first episode, but then doesn’t sustain the narrative device further on. In another scene, the couple argue about a certain event and the memory is re-enacted according to their divergent perspectives, another element that is not revisited.
Nevertheless, even with these shortcomings, The Cage is a fun show that takes us back to a romance budding in the 1990s ― a time of mixtapes, corded telephones and more social restrictions around dating.
While this might be the first Kuwaiti project on Netflix, the country has one of the region’s richest legacies in theatre and television. The Cage feels like a continuation of that legacy. All three of the main cast are proven veterans of Kuwait’s theatre scene. AlMahdi’s background in comedy is evident, particularly in the flashback scenes, and complements his prowess as a drama performer. Ameen, meanwhile, gives a layered performance as the counsellor, but even four episodes in, there are many questions about his character still unanswered, which is strange for a character who has broken the fourth wall and has promised a degree of transparency with the viewer.
Whether that’s due to porous writing or whether the show is preparing for a satisfying reveal down the line remains to be seen.