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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 16 August 2018

Irish theatre group Danu change course with Palestinian play at Ductac from today

Faris Kayello as Ali and Zain Shaikh as Yusuf in I am Yusuf and This Is My Brother, a play by Palestinian playwright Amir Nizar Zuabi. Courtesy Danu Dubai Theatre Group
Faris Kayello as Ali and Zain Shaikh as Yusuf in I am Yusuf and This Is My Brother, a play by Palestinian playwright Amir Nizar Zuabi. Courtesy Danu Dubai Theatre Group

Surat Yusuf, the 12th chapter in the Holy Quran, is about the son of Ya’qub, who is destined to become a Prophet and a victim of his brothers’ jealousy.

The story’s themes of conflict, strength and victory, is symbolic of the upheaval and trauma that continues to echo through the Palestinian cause. I am Yusuf and This Is My Brother, a play by Palestinian playwright Amir Nizar Zuabi, is a poetic journey to understanding the deterioration of relationships and struggles of his people against the backdrop of United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine. Zuabi, who is also the director of the Palestinian National Theatre, has staged the Arabic version of the production in refugee camps since 2009. The English adaptation opened to rave reviews at London’s Young Vic in 2010. The English version of the play will be staged by Danu Dubai Theatre Group at Ductac from today, with Palestinian and Arab actors in the lead. The 12-member cast will enact the tale of Yusuf, Ali and Nada from the village of Baissamoon, which was wrecked during the Nakba of 1948. Ali battles to be with Nada, the love of his life, but at the same time has a responsibility towards his family who are faced with dislocation. We ask Danu’s Irish director Padraig Downey about their latest production.

This is a diversion from what we are used to seeing Danu stage?

I decided to do this because I wanted a change and wanted to learn more. I felt that if I were to do a play like this, I wouldn’t have Arab actors at my disposal, and I didn’t want to miss this golden opportunity while in the Middle East and Dubai. I want to focus on themes that affect everyday people. And just by travelling around the Middle East, I have developed such a love for the region. I feel it is not celebrated enough.

How did you hear about this play?

I was doing some research on Palestine because I’m very passionate about equal rights and the Palestinian cause. When I was in Dublin, Zuabi was a visiting the Abby Theatre with a Syrian play. I thought it was very interesting for someone to come to Dublin with a Syrian play at the time of the war. I thought his work was relevant and new and began researching more. I noticed he had some Palestinian plays as well, and that he is Palestinian. So I emailed him and the rest is history. It has only been done one in English.

So did you work with the translated version?

There was an English script, printed by Bloomsbury. Zuabi was fantastic and he was very willing for us to do his work in Dubai and was willing to have people be exposed to his work. We did have some difficulty in the translations but it was great to have an Arabic cast to work out the issues. The script is divided into three sections but we do it as one. It begins with Ramallah in 2000, in the beginning and then goes back to 1948 Baissamoon, which got destroyed and then comes back to Ramallah again. Even the style of the theatre changes, going from realism to memory to absurd in the end. The writer tries to show the confusion of the situation and how messy it became.

How should the story be viewed?

The storyline focuses on 1948 and the partition of Palestine but it is done in a really subtle manner. It is not out to promote hatred or misunderstanding. The title is taken from the 12th surah of the Quran and it is also in the Bible as the story of Joseph. So there is a hint in the title as to what the play is about. There is a huge imagery surrounding the well and around Yousef, but this play begins in 2000. Ali is in love with Nada and the story flashes back to a young Ali and his brother Yusuf growing up in 1948. Ali is consumed with the thoughts of marrying Nada but his father doesn’t agree to their union. In the background is the chaos in their village, the UN vote and partition. Suddenly everything is ripped apart and we see the struggle of Ali to be with Nada and loyalty towards his brother and family.

Where are your actors from?

Our theatre group is synonymous with Irish and Western actors. So we had a casting call to get actors from the region. Except for a British, Pakistani and Indian actor, the rest are Arabs. I wanted Palestinians in the leading roles so I spread the word through the Palestinian society here.

What were the challenges of putting this together?

The challenge has been to ensure we get the Palestinian dialect right. I have intertwined some Palestinian music in the play, as well as Palestinian poetry and verses from the Quran.

I am Yusuf and This Is My Brother will be staged at Ductac from today until Saturday from 7.30pm. An additional matinée show will be staged at 3pm on Saturday. Ticket are from Dh60 on www.ductac.org.

aahmed@thenational.ae

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