Taha at the Young Vic review: A remarkable one man show that explores the life and times of the Palestinian poet

Melissa York
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“Nothing in life ever came to me easy,” says Taha Muhammad Ali, a major understatement that bookends this show about the life and times of the Palestinian poet.

It isn’t often that such a romantic soul also has such a dogged entrepreneurial streak, but his street hustling in his hometown of Galilee as “a Muslim, selling Christian memorabilia to Jews” provides bursts of excitable joy in a tale that’s largely concerned with survival and loss.

Caught up in the Israeli bombardment of his hometown following the Second World War, Taha goes from precocious businessman to survivor, living in a refugee camp in Lebanon before reaching a point stable enough to follow his true calling as a poet.

Recited in Arabic, his searing verse steps in when simple prose fails him, here translated on a black screen behind a dusty square of carpet and a suitcase, the only props to illustrate his story.

At times, it’s a predictably tragic play with an unrequited love story that never really grows legs. But Amer Hlelel, who writes and stars, is extraordinary as he one-man-bands his way through 50 years of history.

At once gentle and effervescent, he’s a potent storyteller with a nuanced sense of tragedy and comedy. Though geopolitical events threaten to overwhelm this one man show, the man is remarkable and meets them head on.

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