Young Vic Theatre, London SE1
Opened 21 January, 2010

I am sometimes frustrated by my countrymen’s long memories stretching “the Irish problem” back to the first Norman occupation nearly 850 years ago. However, we are as mayflies compared to one character in Amir Nizar Zuabi’s play, who illustrates how long Palestinians have felt disfranchised in their own land: before the Israelis there was the British Mandate, the Ottoman Empire, and so on back past the Crusaders, Romans and Greeks to the Assyrians in the seventh century B.C.
One of the strengths of Zuabi’s play is that, although it comes from one side of the matter, it is not explicitly partisan. There have been a succession of “they”s, but none is present onstage, with the sole exception of a fairly reasonable but ultimately uncomprehending Yorkshire squaddie in the final days of the Mandate, 1947-48. Some of the villagers of Baissamoon and elsewhere are killed in the strife following British withdrawal, but the “they” who perpetrate these acts are never identified as those establishing the new State of Israel. This play, presented by the Young Vic in co-operation with Zuabi’s ShiberHur company of Haifa, is about an “us”.
In particular, it is about the simple-minded Yusuf, his brother Ali and Ali’s beloved Nada, whose father objects to her marriage. This trio is at the centre of the portrait of village life. But as withdrawal and partition approach, everyone’s lives grow ever more contingent and precarious. Some choose to migrate, they hope temporarily, to less fertile but safer areas; some to stay; Ali and Nada are separated.
Resources of natural fertility form a strong and constant subtext. We see first a drop of water poured onstage, then handfuls, a jarful, and finally a shallow pool is revealed covering most of the playing area… and the more water there is, the less connection to the land is permitted to the people. An old man is seen carrying his fruit tree into exile with him: he does not want, he says, to become “a small ring in a big trunk”. And ultimately we find that Yusuf and Ali’s personal history has a literal wellspring. Zuabi (who directed the Palestinian National Theatre’s Jidariyya, which I so admired in the 2008 Edinburgh International Festival) mixes English and Arabic dialogue nicely in his portrayal of small people engulfed in a historical cataclysm which has never receded since.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

Return to index of reviews for the year 2010

Return to master reviews index

Return to main theatre page

Return to Shutters homepage