Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 19 August 2019

Meet the Palestinian actress who's reviving Rachel Corrie's message of peace on the Dubai stage

Farrah Yassin feels she has a lot in common with the late American peace activist

Farrah Yassin plays Rachel Corrie in a one-woman play at Courtyard Playhouse. Courtesy Danu Dubai
Farrah Yassin plays Rachel Corrie in a one-woman play at Courtyard Playhouse. Courtesy Danu Dubai

Farrah Yassin, an actress and entrepreneur, remembers clearly the day she heard that 23-year-old American peace activist Rachel Corrie had been killed in Gaza, run over by a bulldozer as she tried to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian family’s home.

It was March 16, 2003, and Yassin, who is Canadian-­Palestinian, was just 13 years old. “Any politics related to Palestine is of interest to me, but the most unique thing about Rachel Corrie’s story is that she was an American who was a martyr for Palestine.”

That’s why, 16 years later, Yassin is portraying her in a one-woman play called My Name is Rachel Corrie, which will be performed at The Courtyard Playhouse in Al Quoz, Dubai, this weekend. It’s the first solo-actor performance in the Gulf, and the original script, which is made up of Corrie’s own diary entries and emails, was edited by English actor Alan Rickman and Katherine Viner, The Guardian’s editor-in-chief.

“She reminds me so much of myself,” says Yassin, who grew up in Bahrain and has been living in Dubai for the past six years. “We’re scatter brains, both very loud, we’re both idealists […] She was a massive dork – I’m a dork, too,” she adds with a laugh.

“In her journals, she says ‘I operate from a core assumption that we are all essentially the same and we’re all really good people inside. That our differences are by and large situational.’ But, she says, ‘I know that this assumption may be false.’ And it was proven to be false, because she didn’t expect that he [the Israeli soldier driving the bulldozer] was actually going to run her over.

“That’s the tragedy of her story. She died for humanity, not just for the Palestinian people. She died for all the idealists.”

Yassin, therefore, didn’t find it difficult to embody Corrie. “I didn’t think for one second Padraig [Downey, the director and producer from Danu Dubai] would pick me. But, because I’ve been involved in the theatre scene for some time, and because of my heritage, I thought, why not? Let me audition.

“Ultimately, I felt I had to take it on. Nothing would have annoyed me more than if someone hadn’t done it justice.”

She was chosen from among dozens of other hopefuls to star as Corrie. She then got to work memorising her (many, many) lines, and performed the play in Dubai from February 28 to March 2. Each night, she received a standing ovation. So, due to popular demand, the play is being brought back to the emirate’s stage on March 22 and 23. Downey also has plans to take it to Bahrain in May, and the Dublin Fringe Festival in September.

Rickman staged the first-ever iteration of My Name is Rachel Corrie 14 years ago at the Royal Court Theatre in London, England. The script has since travelled across the world, with theatre groups performing their own versions. “What’s so interesting about this script is, because it’s based on diaries and not in chronological order, there’s no clear stage direction,” Yassin says. “So we can do whatever we want with it.” Her and Downey collaborated, to make sure the play is always engaging, to ensure the audience doesn’t ever get bored following just one actor. “It allows for so much creativity.”

The poster for 'My Name is Rachel Corrie' by Danu Dubai
The poster for 'My Name is Rachel Corrie' by Danu Dubai

While Yassin has not worked as a professional actress before – she left her full-time job at Emirates NBD just a few months ago to pursue her passions – she’s been involved in show business for a few years, and has performed on stages since she was a child. She was even a contestant on the The X Factor in the UK back in 2012 (incidentally, that was the same year as James Arthur, who also lived in Bahrain – “it was destined for someone from Bahrain to win that year!” Yassin laughs). “I sang Foolish Games by Jewel and got four yesses from the judges, but I didn’t like the atmosphere. I realised it was a very unnatural way for me to become a singer. Although it was an amazing experience and I got into bootcamp, I decided not to go ahead.”

Yassin feels she has a lot in common with American peace activist Rachel Corrie. Courtesy Danu Dubai
Yassin feels she has a lot in common with American peace activist Rachel Corrie. Courtesy Danu Dubai

Now, alongside her acting projects, Yassin is also working on starting up a business that empowers working-class women to join the workforce. This is another reason why she felt she related so deeply with Corrie, as the pair of them were and are passionate about closing the gap between classes.

Above all, Yassin feels that their privileged upbringings led them both to have a similar outlook on life. It is this quote from Corrie that speaks to her most:

“We are all born and some day we’ll all die. Most likely to some degree alone. But what if our aloneness isn’t a tragedy? What if our aloneness allows us to speak the truth without being afraid? What if our aloneness is what allows us to adventure, to experience the world as a dynamic presence, as a changeable, interactive thing? Because if I was in Bosnia or Rwanda or who knows where else, needless deaths wouldn’t be a symbol to me, it wouldn’t be a metaphor, it would be a reality.”

The director, Downey, agrees this is perhaps her most powerful message. “We cannot choose where we are born, but we can help,” he says. “Theatre might not be able to change the world but it can change people. Rachel says that she ‘can wash dishes’ to help. I can make theatre.”

March 22-23, 8pm, free with registration online at www.courtyardplayhouse.com

Updated: March 21, 2019 05:09 PM

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