There is something truly special about leaving a theatre and feeling as though you have been taken on a journey. For a Palestinian takes us through decades, cultures, wars, and personal relationships, having the audience half the time in tears and half the time snorting from laughter. The show’s inspiration, the book ‘For a Palestinian’ by artist Janet Venn-Brown, tells the life story of her former partner, activist Wael Zwaiter – a fascinating figure of whom I was previously unaware. Zwaiter established a base for Palestinian solidarity within Italy, and was tragically assassinated as a result.
Bilal Hasna is absolutely charming, and bears an almost superhuman ability to switch between characters. Within the 75 minutes of performance he is Palestinian, British, French, Italian, Australian, at different ages, emotions, and moments in history. The characterisation itself is beautifully crafted, and to have this executed by a sole actor is truly impressive; it is easy to forget this is a one-man-show when the stage is filled with international communities.
The representation of love, both between Wael and Janet and the love of the Palestinian people for their home, is deeply touching. For a Palestinian represents love as tenderness, as rage, as agony; it is a complex and radical exploration of the human condition, and a wonderful tribute to Zwaiter’s own passions. A stand-out element is the contrasting of Zwaiter’s determination to fight for his country with his inability to hurt even spiders, bringing to the stage the burning dilemma that arises at the intersection of love and injustice.
The production quality is extremely sharp, with transitions in sound and lighting that feel almost like edited jump-cuts. This is a testament to the skill of the whole crew. The use of audio clips – from pro-Palestinian rallies and Bilal’s own interviews with those who lived through the 1967 exodus – add a depth to the storytelling and help platform additional Palestinian voices. The staging is simple but effective, with a blank frame that becomes decorated with campaign posters and transforms the space into one of political action. The story uses a motif of oranges, which grow near the sea in Zwaiter’s hometown, thus citrus slices accordingly adorn the stage. For a Palestinian successfully transports its audience to Italy, Palestine, and the UK airport duty-free, capturing everything from the delight of a family wedding to the grief of war.
This play expresses both the joy for loving one’s roots and the pain of feeling removed from them. Hasna explores what this means for those like himself, raised in Britain, and the connections that young Palestinians in the UK can make with influential figures such as Zwaiter. The show places heavy emphasis on the power of speaking as activism, and the production advocates for support of the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign. The level of passion demonstrated by Hasna is comparable to little I have seen on stage, and this production has elevated my perspective of the Palestinian past and present. Highly recommended.
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.