I AM YUSUF AND THIS IS MY BROTHER
by Amir Nizar Zuabi.
Young Vic 55 The Cut SE1 8LZ To 6 February 2010.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat 30 Jan, 6 Feb 2.30pm.
Runs 1hr 30min No interval.
TICKETS: 020 7922 2922.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 21 January.
Politics often made intense by poetic theatricality.
This production makes clear why the Palestine word for the country’s 1948 Partition translates as ‘disaster’, something which, here, increases a lovers’ rift. Young Nada’s father won’t let her marry Ali, who’s the strong, reliable type, because his brother Yusuf is the village idiot of Baissamoon, in 1947 Galilee.
Well-intentioned, with his own particular wisdom, Amer Hiehel’s active young Yusuf is given a perspective by being framed in modern-day scenes where characters from the traumatic 1940s past invade the head of Yussef Abu Warda’s solid yet (when asked to take a bath) still excitably obstinate old Yusuf. The modern frame, like the present-day opening of Ken Loach’s Spanish Civil War film Land and Freedom, gives present-tense urgency to the past. Knowing how things end can intensify the realisation of events.
Politics intrudes, bringing death – always the sudden crack of gunfire heard, but not seen. Visually, the British mandate’s represented by a single soldier, the intriguingly-named Rufus, an opera-lover who can’t wait to return home to Sheffield and whose (barely) portable radio lets the villagers hear the UN’s nation-by-nation Partition votes.
Death, accusation and separation cloud the characters’ lives, and Rufus represents those who can sail away from it all. Aptly the play, in London, is performed in Arabic and English, for the language divide expresses a cultural gap, revealed with serious comedy as the local teacher turns Rufus’s explanations about political developments into pithy comments for the villagers. His predictions come true as the British move out and the Israelis move in.
Detail of everyday life is suddenly placed in the perspective of tradition as a line of women carrying jars on their heads to the well enter singing traditional songs. Amir Nizar Zuabi’s play never forgets its characters’ individual feelings. His production, set simply by designer Jon Bausor on a canvas desert, and intensified repeatedly by Colin Grenfell’s poetically angled lighting, can fall to the commonplace when it doesn’t call for poetic staging. But it has many moments of deeply-felt understanding, in which the politics emerges more strongly for its impact on Nada, Ali and, most particularly, Yusuf himself.
Ali: Ali Suliman.
Yusuf: Amer Hiehel.
Rufus: Paul Fox.
Old Nada/Woman from Different Time/Um Samar/Water Woman/Dead Refugee: Salwa Nakkara.
Nada/Water Woman/Desd Refugee: Samaa Wakeem.
Nagi/Water Woman/Dead Refugee: Taher Najib.
Girl from Haifa/Water Woman/Dead Refugee: Tarez Sliman.
Old Yusuf/Man with Tree/Man from Haifa: Yussef Abu Warda.
Director: Amir Nizar Zuabi.
Designer: John Bausor.
Lighting: Colin Grenfell.
Music: Habib Shehadeh Hanna.