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For a Palestinian – Camden People’s Theatre, London

Reviewer: Richard Maguire

Writers: Bilal Hasna and Aaron Kilercioglu

Director: Aaron Kilercioglu

When he receives an invitation to attend his cousin’s wedding in Palestine, Bilal feels he needs to do some research into a country he hasn’t lived in since he was a boy. He finds a story about Wa’el Zuaiter, a Palestinian man living in Italy in the 1960s. Bilal Hasna and Aaron Kilercioglu’s play For A Palestinian is for Wa’el Zuaiter. It’s for any Palestinian who cries when bombs fall on Gaza. This play is for us all.

At first Wa’el’s story is slow and his life in Rome is filled with the bohemian friends he shares a house with. Their lives are full of Chianti and Fellini. In this one-man show, Hasna shifts effortlessly from excited We’el, who is thrilled to be in the city, to the arrogance of English Corney and the bonhomie of Salvatore from Sardinia. Hasna’s accents and mannerisms ensure that each character is fully realised, but it’s hard to see where the story is going. When Wa’el meets artist Janet, it seems as if For A Palestinian will be a sweet, but simple love story.

The play moves up a gear when Wa’el decides to go back to Palestine to fight against Israel in the war of 1967. The conflict finishes when he’s still driving through Lebanon. Cars have stopped in the road and people are hugging each other in grief. As a consequence of the Six-Day War, Israel has annexed more of Palestine. Wa’el ‘s homeland has virtually disappeared. Hasna delivers this scene in a whisper; the audience gripped by the story. The silence is in stark contrast to the noise and bustle of Wa’el’s life in Rome captured in Holly Khan’s evocative sound design

We’el goes back to Italy to become an activist garnering support for a free Palestine. Meanwhile back in the present day, Bilal prepares to travel with his parents to Palestine for the wedding. Voiceovers from interviews show Hasna’s research methodology, a metatheatrical device that Hasna and Kilercioglu fully exploit at the end. It may take us out of Wa’el’s story, but it’s vital that the play discusses today too.

The polemic at the play’s end is even more strident than the final scenes of Gary Owen’s Iphigenia at Splott, about to be revived at the Hammersmith Lyric, and just as effective, just as moving. And the impassioned coda ensures that the message is more hopeful than the Royal Court’s Brechtian two Palestinians go dogging, which imagined a future where the war in Palestine still rages on.

Hasna is visibly upset when he breaks character – he is now neither Wa’el nor Bilai dancing excitedly at his cousin’s wedding – but apparently a version of himself as the actor and playwright. The lyricism of this final section is heart-breaking, especially as the script strives to find a happy-ending to finish on. That the writers discover one in is a sign of the love and care that they have put into their elegiac piece. The end is so delicately presented that it’s impossible not to leave the auditorium wishing you could smell the smell of the orange groves that once grew on the shore of Wa’el’s coastal village.

Runs until 1 October 2022

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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