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31Jan

I Am Yusuf And This Is My Brother (Theatre Review)

Image 1I believe one of the many reasons I love theatre is because it breaks down barriers in ways our politicians cannot.  When you are in there, you are one of many audience members and no one is going to ask you about the colour of your skin, the degree you hold or how much money you are worth. We come in with our individual expectations of what the play is about and we leave with our individual interpretations of the play. I know some seats are more expensive than others but at the end of the day, whether or not you paid £100 or £10, we are all going to see the same play.

I Am Yusuf And This Is My Brother, at the Young Vic theatre, is a poignant, powerful and poetic piece of theatre, a play that attacks and awakens one’s senses about the plight of the Palestinian people. Written and directed by Amir Nizar Zuabi, a Palestinian who happens to be part of the minority of Palestinians living inside Israel, it is a brilliant production which leaves you asking questions. Not once is Israel mentioned. I believe this is why the play succeeds because Zuabi did not point fingers or tell the world Israel did this or that. Instead, he focused on the story of his people, their anguish at being dislocated and dispossessed of their land and dignity.

I Am Yusuf And This Is My Brother, tells the story of Yusuf and his brother Ali. Yusuf, popularly known as the village fool, is the eldest brother but he has a child like point of view on life and acts like one. Ali is in love with Nada but her father will not allow them get married because he feels Yusuf is odd. A love story which  shows two people who are torn apart by circumstances, the play gives us the bigger picture of the chaos these individuals have found themselves due to the political upheavals in the country.

Zuabi takes us back to 1948, the year of the partition, Palestine is about to be divided and they all sit by the radio, believing it will not happen but the unthinkable happens. They are scattered all over and war erupts, a war that is defined by the might of one side over the other. One character on stage says it best – “We have stones, they have aeroplanes.” Which begets the question, what do fight with when you have nothing to fight with?

Image 7Rich in poetry that stems from the Arabic culture of its writer and director, Zuabi awakens your sense with the emotions fused into this play. You have no choice but to think twice about what the news media has reported over the years and ask, if they have been lying to us?

He expertly tells the story of his people from a perspective that I have never seen or heard before. Reiterating that this play is about the Palestinian narrative not that of Israel or the international community. Laced with humour and compassion for humanity, Zuabi displays an adept brilliance and understanding of history, the history of his people, which has defined their existence for over five decades.

If displacement can be compared to a foul smell, then Zuabi should be pleased with himself because I Am Yusuf And This Is My Brother reminds us about the nasty stench of feeling displaced in life. Yet, he gives you a feeling of hope with the elderly man who uproots the tree in front of his house, believing he can and will replant when he goes back home.


I Am Yusuf And This Is My Brother is currently showing at the Young Vic and end on 6 Feb 2010

Image 1 – Samaa Wakeem, Ali Suliman

Image 2 – Yussef Abu Warda

Images by Keith Pattison


Please do not use without permission from the Young Vic theatre

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4 Responses to “I Am Yusuf And This Is My Brother (Theatre Review)”

  1. Temitayo says:

    “We come in with our individual expectations of what the play is about and we leave with our individual interpretations of the play.” You are right on that…which kind of makes the work of a reviewer a bit tough. Okay you have your thoughts on the piece and all but should a review (even of other forms of art) be based on only one’s thoughts? I know there’s a way one can read the audiences through their expressions. Some say interview some people in the audience…that could as well get you more confusing. Others, interview the artist to have a knowledge of their vision for the work, and all that…This comes in especially when you have to write a somewhat not-too-good review, nobody rants when you do the ‘good’ reviews’. How does a writer stay true to only his/her impressions? You don’t like all the pieces you see, do you? When you have to write such reviews, how do you find a balance that it does not strip the work of whatever value it has?

    Okay, end of questions 🙂 This makes me remember Khaled Hosseini’s ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’…reading that book got me to appreciate Palestinian history and opens up the world of their lit to me, in a certain way. I find the society interesting, especially when in touch with other cultures.

    Loved reading this, as usual but I couldn’t help these questions that have always been loitering in my mind…

  2. Belinda Otas says:

    Temi, its okay to ask questions. I ask also. Whenever I don’t like a play or was not flowing with it, I pick what was good and also point out the bad to try and strike a balance. As critics, we don’t have the final say to be honest. It is down to individuals to decide what they thought. A critics perception is his or own individual interpretation and you cannot force that on the masses. You can only say, this is what I thought…

    My aunt and I go to the theatre a lot and I might like something about a play but she does not see it like that, does that mean she is wrong because I am a journalist and she just enjoys going to the theatre? not at all…in fact, she could be so right and I so wrong…so t is a personal interpretation that critics too bring to it. I know there are pointers by which critics judge a production but hey, don’t tell a lie if you don’t like it. I know of a critic who likes plays which I thought, what the hell was that about? But that’s how he saw it. So bravo to him 🙂

  3. Temitayo says:

    🙂 that’s all there’s to say!

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