“For a Palestinian” takes you on a journey through time and places, all through the brilliant acting skills of Bilal Hasna. The 1.5-hour monologue flows smoothly as a comedy-drama, but takes a sharp turn and ends as an emotional, tragic story. Hasna hits the spot with his energetic style of storytelling – stripped of fancy props or swanky stage set, but using only his voice and stage presence. A juicy, tangy piece of theatre, resembling oranges -the symbol of the play.
“I mean it’s in our blood, us Arabs love a good love story.”
“For a Palestinian” takes you to Palestine, of course, but not only. Most of the time it stays closer to home, in Italy. The production interchanges 2 storylines: that of a softspoken, peaceful book translator Wael Zwaiter, enjoying his life in Rome in the 60s, and the modern-day story of Hasna’s own story of his journey to Palestine for his cousin’s wedding. Both stories connect by discovering different ways and feelings that Palestinians living in the West perceive their identity and connections and responsibilities with their homeland.
There’s a love story involved, but also a life story of Zwaiter who is such a fascinating, yet rather unknown figure. He was the first person to translate “One Thousand and One Nights” from Arabic into Italian and spent his adult life educating the Italian public about the history of Palestine and supporting his homeland from afar (he wanted to fight in the 6-day war, but never made it on time).
A monologue that feels like multiple voices having constant conversations
Hasna’s performance hides a couple of surprises, and they are skillfully revealed slowly, as the show progresses. Like a gifted painter, he creates a detailed vision of parallel stories, told by different narrators. By the end, he takes a bucket of paint remover and cleans the painting from the colours, revealing the harsh truth of all the stories. He steps out of all characters and addresses the audience as himself, telling why the play was created and expressing current frustrations with the seemingly hopeless situation. These last 5 minutes are raw, strong pieces of theatre, and leave a durable impression on everyone in the room.
Hasna portrays multiple characters and shuffles them even mid-sentence. Each of the personas is strongly marked by either an accent or tone of voice, so it’s never confusing to understand who is talking. And that’s an impressive feat, as we follow characters coming from different countries and representing different genders.
Interview recordings are used interchangeably with the ongoing monologue, adding the reality factor to an otherwise almost dreamy, smooth sequences of the bohemian life in the 60s and journey to Palestine in 2020s. The only minor issue I found was the sound – the music was a little too loud at times and it look me quite some focus to fully understand the words spoken on the stage (given that I sat in the 4th row, and the venue is quite small, it shouldn’t be a problem normally).
What this play is not, is a balanced Wikipedia-style look at Palestine and its history. It’s more of a zoom on a personal story, emotions, and feelings. It doesn’t aim to take huge political stands, but rather bring you closer to one character from the past, and as Hasna highlights, just focus on love, keeping the memory alive – and not losing hope for the future.
What it is, is a fantastic storytelling piece, with a strong emotional “bang” at the end. Worth seeing – if only there are still any tickets left! The performance I attended was completely sold out, and people were still approaching the box office asking for any returns. So book early!
Written by: Bilal Hasna & Aaron Kilercioglu
Directed by: Aaron Kilercioglu
Produced by: Alistair Wilkinson
Lighting Design by: Ros Chase
Set Design by: Jida Akil
Sound Design by: Holly Khan
For a Palestinian plays at Camden People’s Theatre until 1 October. Further information and bookings can be found here.