Guest Blog: Amer Hlehel Talks TAHA at the Young Vic

Guest Blog: Amer Hlehel Talks TAHA at the Young Vic

"Taha is not a play for me, not a project - it's a life. I am living Taha, I am experiencing a poet, a time, a land, a theatre and myself."

Taha, the beginning

When I first read the poem The Fourth Qasida by Taha Muhammad Ali, I knew I was going to put it on stage somehow, somewhere and sometime. It is a poem about loss: losing a land, losing a life through losing a love. It was the first time I read a poem about "Al Nakba" (the Palestinian catastrophe) that was written from a very personal, human and tender point of view.

I really didn't know how I was going to make a theatre piece from the poem for a couple of years. Then I read Adina Hoffman's book My Happiness Bears No Relation to Happiness, which is a great biography about Taha Muhammad Ali. I felt relieved: I found the story of the poem, the story of the poet and the story of a people in it. That was the start of the project.

Taha Muhammad Ali

Taha is one of the deepest, most human, and most poetic voices in the Palestinian poetry scene. In his writing he used a new language (called free verse), a new form and a great soul.

In his beloved verses, Taha documents hopeful survival after years of loss - loss of his home, his lover, his friends and his shop in Saffureh in Galilee.

Taha - the Arabic version

The first time I went to Taha's family for their permission to write a play about their father, they looked at me with suspicion: how could I make a play about him? But eventually, with great generosity, they agreed without questioning the play or me.

Even when I finished the first draft and sent it to them to read and to give me their approval, they refused to read it and asked me to do what I thought was right for the play without any conditions. I felt something special about the project, but with their response, it felt much more special, and the Arabic version was born.

Taha - the English version

"It's Palestine's story, not just Taha's. You should perform it around the world. Let people know about us." After a performance in Amman, Jordan, a Palestinian refugee who had never been back to Palestine after he was exiled in 1948 said this to me and I knew I had to do it.

I called director Amir Nizar Zuabi and he instantly liked the idea. Now, sometime later, the English version is touring! Did I mention I felt something special about the project from the beginning?

Artist's dream

When I read The Fourth Qasida the first time, I didn't know that it would last this long with me on stage. I only felt it without knowing it. Today, I believe in artists' instincts more than anything else: art is something that comes from our senses' union. Art is a human experience. Art is us.

Taha at Young Vic 5-15 July

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From This Author Guest Blog: Amer Hlehel

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