Alive from Palestine - Stories under the Occupation

Al-Kasaba Theatre
Young Vic
(2002)

It is most unusual to arrive at a theatre to be welcomed by a dozen protestors. The power of political theatre is apparent as one arrives at The Young Vic for Alive from Palestine. The demonstrators are protesting against a company that makes no secret of its support for the political cause of their homeland.

This production is really more of a series of well-told stories than a full-scale play. Together, these give an idea of the lives of ordinary Palestinians. They are told in Arabic with surtitles.

Director Amir Nizar Zuabi gets a nice balance by juxtaposing Erik Satie's piano solos, exuding a sense of luxurious peace, with often violent tales from this war zone where death is a constant. His actors help him by conveying something of the courage that is required just to live in these circumstances.

The series of a dozen or so stories mixes humour and satire with tiredness and fear. At their best, they capture the mood of a people in a few minutes. At their worst, they can fulfil some of the protestors' worst fears by presenting a one-sided view of an extremely complex conflict. However, it is likely that none of those under mortar fire the world over would do any less.

Generally, the best moments are those of greatest comedy, a telephone conversation between a father at home seeing life through rose-tinted glasses and his London-based son does more to gain sympathy for the plight of the Palestinians than any number of bitter denunciations of the "occupying forces". Similarly, the horror of a riot that goes wrong is heightened immensely by its apparent seeds as a scene from a Jean Claude Van Damme movie.

The overall impression is of a courageous, dispossessed people that will fight almost to the last child to regain a land that they believe is their right. What is missing is any real sense that the other side in this war may also have a degree of right on its side. This is a pity as the storytelling is often understated but symbolically rich, as in the attempts of a woman to go to university which involves a round the world trip. In a theatrical setting, the production has the chance to get across the message of a people who are rarely given media space in which to tell their sad tales.

While Alive from Palestine succeeds in generating sympathy for the individual victims of the conflict, arguably every Palestinian, its often-polemical style may not achieve its aim of persuading the world that their nation's cause is just. Having said this, the protestors outside the theatre may have learned a great deal about the humanity of their objects of hatred by coming inside. Alternatively, they might just have strengthened their views.

Alive runs until 27th July

This review originally appeared on Theatreworld in a slightly different version.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher