Festival Theatre


As the Palestinian National Theatre brings its adaptation of Jidariyya, by the great Arab poet Mahmoud Darwish, to the EIF, Steve Cramer talks to director Amir Nizar Zuabi about his nation's rediscovery of its culture and language

erhaps the greatest psychological pain humans can feel occurs when they are denied language. The sense of frustration

that builds from a voice unheard. marginalised or

rendered irrelevant by the listener can be overwhelming. This is as true of the great narratives of politics and nationhood as it is in

personal relations. But long periods of denial of

a voice can also lead to a tremendous articulacy

52 THE LIST FESTIVAL MAGAZINE l-‘. 2‘. Aug; 7008

when it is finally allowed utterance. and often expresses itself in poetry. as we fall back in love. not only with the sentiments expressed. but with the very words we give voice to.

As we sit on the terrace of a cafe in Tel Aviv. observing the palms and lush vegetation lining the narrow. immaculately kept street just off one of the city"s broad avenues. it occurs to me that director Amir .\'i/.ar '/.aubi derives his articulacy

from a love of words he knows have gone largely unheeded. The Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish. whose epic poem Jidarriya has been adapted by Khalifa Natour for the Palestinian National Theatre. speaks about the dilemma of being marginalised. of being the one spoken of by others. and in this sense falls into a great tradition. Milton's Paradise Lost. for instance. represents a cry against the eradication of all traces of the English Revolution that was going on at the time of the epic poem‘s composition. while Eliot‘s The Wasle Lam! seeks spiritual redress against the voracious and empty materialism of the modern age. Both artists wrote poetry in voices that went largely unheeded at the time.

But is poetry something British audiences want to hear in the theatre? Back in the the heyday of Christopher Fry and TS Eliot. poetry on stage was a pretty common occurence in this country. But it’s been half a century since these writers and their many aeolytes fell from fashion. and. the general rule in the British profession has been: ‘Unless it‘s Shakespeare. who we can‘t avoid. stay away from verse.‘ The idea of presenting verse adapted as drama has attracted even fewer admirers.

Thus. it might be with trepidation at the shock of the new that audiences approach Jillarivva. but. as Zaubi reassures me. the journey will be worth taking. ‘This show is about a sick man on his deathbed. in dialogue with himself with his culture. with his language.‘ he says. ‘Mahmoud Darwish is very special for us. because he is our national poet. He‘s on the edge of being a legend. Poets in the Arab world are what rock stars are in the West. There’s a very vivid