Imagine living in a country in which poetry is so revered – not only revered but commonplace – that children learn to read their language through its texts.
Palestinian poet Taha Muhammad Ali did this, and now Haifa-based actor, director and playwright Amer Hlehel brings Taha’s poetry to Australia – a country that, sadly, undervalues poetry. For that reason alone, this is an important production, but I’m not here to talk about the learning value of the show; I’m here to review it.
Taha is a one-man show, emotionally handled by Hlehel. The stage is a minimalist one of a small yellow square with only two props: a seat and a leather satchel. Hlehel stands in that square, giving voice to his troubled relationship to home.
Sometimes he stagers, an eerie backdrop of noise repeating in the background. What the soundtrack is, I couldn’t work out, but I will call it “memory”. When he is fleeing Palestine as a teenage boy with his family to Lebanon in the Arab-Israeli war of 1948, he steps outside the box and walks quickly around it. It’s a confusing, boundary-less moment.
The lighting is always on the yellow box; the rest of the stage is pitch-black, save for Hlehel’s large shadow on the walls on either side of him. Clearly there are no frills in this Festival production, the restrained set design only highlighting the simple power of words.
Taha is the story of a man who lost his home, his lover and his livelihood, and it is also a story of a man who found solace in poetry and became one of his country’s greatest poets.
It’s an interesting story, at times funny and at times heartbreaking, and at the best of times inspiring, and like all interesting stories, Hlehel draws us in and all we need is to hear word after word, sentence after sentence, while again and again we ask ourselves, “and then what?”.
But just as poetry is an exercise in stillness and patience and acceptance, so too is this theatrical performance, so expect reflection, and expect a lingering, but above all, expect beauty.
Taha is being presented at the Space Theatre until March 18. Read more InDaily Adelaide Festival stories and reviews here.
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