Monday, 10 July 2017

Review Taha

Tim Gopsill applauds a solo show tracing the dislocated life and the tender, humane poetry of a contemporary Palestinian poet.  

by Amer Hlehel
Translated by Amir Nizar Nuabi  

Lost And Found In Translation 

Sometimes the shortest work can carry the most meaning. This one-man play Taha tells of a lifetime in just over an hour.

The life is that of Taha Mohammed Ali, the celebrated Palestinian poet who died in 2011.

Playwright and actor Amer Hlehel explores the lives of many Palestinian refugees through the story and character of Taha, using the facts of his biography, his poetry and reconstructing the poet's life with elements of magical realism.

Taha relates how he had forced himself on a world, which did not want him. His mother had given birth to three sons before, all called Taha, for whom thanks had been offered to God, but all had died. No thanks were offered for the fourth, which survived, and “that was me.”

Fittingly, a large part of Taha's story is also conveyed through his verse - the translation projected in surtitles on the the back wall. Sometimes the poetry is recited in English and sometimes in Arabic, all of which adds to the fabric of an affecting play.

A first-generation Palestinian torn from his roots, teenager Taha and his family were driven from the family home in Galilee in 1948.

Unable to bear life in the refugee camp in Lebanon the family smuggle themselves back over the border for a life of internal exile.

We meet Taha's parents, his sister and the cousin he loved through Hlehel's captivating performance and travel with Taha to Lebanon, then back to his changed land of his birth and on to Nazareth where he again built up his life.  

Hlehel's performance as Taha does not have the polemic and anger often associated with the Palestinian experience. While conveying the bitter loss, it is wry, self-deprecating and occasionally funny --- in line with Taha’s verse.

As the owner of a successful souvenir shop in Nazareth, Taha proclaims himself, "a Muslim selling Christian memorabilia to Jews".   

Far from raging over theft, Taha evokes a child puzzling over dispossession and then an adult living with injustice and sorrowing over what the land can come to mean. 

This land doesn't remember love…
This land denies,
cheats, and betrays us;
its dust can't bear us…

Director Amir Nizar Zuabi wisely keeps the simplicity and directness of the poet's voice in his minimal staging - a bench and a box of yellow light lit by Muaz Jubeh with music from Habib Shehadah Hanna.

Taha was launched in Washington DC earlier this year before performances in Luxembourg, Manchester and now The Young Vic until July 15.  It will then travel on to The Edinburgh Fringe Festival

For a deeply affecting performance exploring the Palestinian refugee experience with a universal resonance through one man  striving to live and understand, it's a green light. 

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