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And Here I Am

Hassan Abdulrazzak based on the life story of Ahmed Tobasi
Developing Artists and Shubbak Festival
Arcola Theatre

Ahmed Tobasi Credit: Oliver King
Ahmed Tobasi Credit: Oliver King
Ahmed Tobasi Credit: Oliver King

Ahmed Tobasi recalls turning up at the Qattan Foundation in Ramallah to audition for a role as actor. He had just spent four years in prison for his part in fighting the Israeli occupation of the Jenin refugee camp. The only job he’d been able to get was in a gym which fired him when they realised he had been in prison.

Nervous and not understanding the audition text taken from the writing of the poet Mahmoud Darwish which gives the title to this play, he gabbles the lines and breaks into an unconnected dance. Much to his surprise, the bemused theatre company hires him.

The self-deprecating humour of the story is typical of Ahmed Tobasi’s account of his life, love and imprisonment in which political resistance and theatre have played an important part.

The play And Here I Am begins and ends with the Freedom Theatre of Jenin and its charismatic director Juliano Mer Khamis who argues to Ahmed that “theatre is a serious weapon. You can use it to change how people think.”

Constantly a thorn in the side of both the Israeli and Palestinian authorities, Juliano was in 2011 shot dead by an unidentified gunman. It is one of the moments in the play that shocks Ahmed into a change of direction.

The show takes us from his early memory at the age of three or four during the first intifada when his father was taken away by the Israelis, through his own involvement as a fairly incompetent if brave fighter in the second intifada, and finally beyond prison to his success in theatre.

We hear about his friends, many of whom become victims of the Israeli Defence Force, their posters lining the walls of Jenin alongside others described as “martyrs”.

Homes are bulldozed and Ahmed at the age of seventeen becomes for a time a member of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. The leader of the group decides Ahmed is too young to fight and tries unsuccessfully to send him home.

Prison separates him from the woman he loves and creates obstacles to them ever being able to marry.

The monologue is lively, funny and engaging. Ahmed is constantly moving, using little beyond a range of shirts, some plastic containers and a bag of sand as props.

He paints a positive picture of most of the people in his life, from his fearless friend Ashraf to the dynamic Juliano and the friendly Israeli soldier Dani.

There are moments in the play which are tragic and moving, but overall the mood is hopeful and uplifting. We are left with a sense that it is possible to end the suffering of Palestine and that theatre can play a part in that process.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna