Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Taha's Dramaturgy: Amer Hlehel @ Edfringe 2017

An Amer Hlehel, Young Vic and Shubbak Festival co-production
Demonstration Room, Summerhall, 4 - 13 August 2017, 11:50 (12:50)

Based on the life story and poetry of the celebrated Palestinian poet, Taha powerfully communicates the sorrow, humour, resilience and tender humanity of this extraordinary man and artist. 

Writer and performer Amer Hlehel brings to life Taha’s poetry which tells of the experience of Palestinian refugees; his story parallels the story of a million and a half Palestinians who remained in their homeland after 1948.

What’s the inspiration behind your performance?

Taha Mohamed Ali is one of the gentlest and deepest Palestinian poets of recent times. Yet, he was always underappreciated both in Palestine and throughout the Middle East, despite him writing deeply relatable and personal poetry. 

What intrigued me even more about him, apart from being such a brilliant special poet, was his unique story. Taha’s tale is, in essence, the same as my granddad’s. He migrated from his village after the Palestinian defeat against Israel in 1948. Then, he went to Lebanon, before slyly slipping through to Palestine with his family. He became part of the group of Palestinians who were refugees in their own land. 

My granddad has the exact same specifics in his story, and I was born with the exact same feeling of being a refugee in my homeland. It was always very important for me that there was a talented poet who eloquently wrote about the situation, which really excited me to do the project. 

Do you feel that the performance is personal for you?

Of course; it’s very personal. When I’m talking about Taha’s story, I feel like I’m really telling mine since I very easily could’ve been his grandson. The story is personal because I walk in streets nowadays and see the effects of the defeat in the environment around me. 

I see the Palestinian tragedy that has been happening on a daily basis since 1948. Taha Mohamed Ali’s accounts are really a summary of that story. Any day of mine is based on the history that he discussed. 

What do you feel is the biggest message that the performance delivers?

The main goal or message for me in the project is for people to uncover a story that’s been lost amongst all the politics and statistics, a story whose characteristics have disappeared. That, of course, is the story of Palestinians and their marginalization in their own lands. 

This story isn’t being told on the news or on a daily basis among people. The political situation trumps all. Everyone sees it depending on their political views and affiliations. 

The goal of this is to regain for Palestine the human element that’s sorely missing nowadays. People in the country have their stories and lives, no matter how simple or even dull they might be. The hope in the performance is that the audience will sympathize with the Palestinian human story without delving into the political side of things. 

Do you feel that the generally western audience of Edinburgh will sympathize with the story?

When people find out about a refugee story, they’re always sympathetic to its human elements. The story of Taha is definitely just that. 

We performed the show in Washington earlier, and the audience was touched by the themes and worlds that it was discovering. I don’t think it’s possible for audiences not to sympathize with the story, as it never really tries to get them to think or act in a specific way. The human elements of it are enough, even if people have no prior knowledge on the sociopolitical history involved. 

Do you feel that there are any elements that might be lost on the Edinburgh audience?

Well, the English version that we showcase isn’t merely a translation of an Arab version; rather, it’s rewritten and rephrased to place international audiences at the heart of the action without having anything lost in translation. 

What do you love the most about theatre?

Peaking from backstage at the audience as soon as they walk in and seeing the anticipation in their faces right before I take the stage. I feel an enormous sense of belonging to the world then. 

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