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Five Reasons to See ... Yasser at the Arcola

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Yasser, billed as a "poignant and playful monologue about identity, acting and a pound of flesh" by Dutch playwright Abdelkader Benali, receives its London premiere at the Arcola Theatre from the 6 to 24 October 2009. Here, actor William el-Gardi, who performs it, gives us five good reasons to go.

1) It's original. Yasser is a piece about Palestinian actor Yasser Mansour who gets cast by a run-down, depressing provincial theatre in the north of England to play Shakespeare's seminal Jew, Shylock, which presents an identity crisis for the Palestinian born man. Robbed on the way to the theatre from all his props (including his prosthetic nose which he needs for the part), and recently dumped by his girlfriend who also plays his antagonist Portia in the same production, this man is having a bad day.

As he waits in his dressing room in the hour prior to taking to the stage, we slowly begin to see him wrestle with his demons - an Arab playing an orthodox Jew; a Palestinian who feels he should be in his homeland instead of prancing around on a stage; and a scorned lover who is deeply infatuated, all interspersed with celebrated snippets of Shakespeare which move the story along.

2) Political theatre minus the finger wagging. Yasser may be a political piece, but partisan political it is not. As an audience you are presented with an insight into the behemoth that is the Arab Israeli conflict through this one man's story which unflinchingly refuses to preach, take sides, point fingers or succumb to didacticism. He leads us through iconic moments in history and in his trajectory marries the political with the surreal, the personal with the iconic, the funny with the tragic.

3) It will move you. Recurrent throughout the monologue are the themes of love, loss and how our protagonist deals with both: love for a country which he escaped from, loss of romantic love, loss of a mother who rejected him and a father who died on him, and ultimately the fear of losing his security blanket and biggest love of all: his ability to perform. Yasser is dotted with moments of heartbreaking drama. We are presented with what it must have been like for a Palestinian boy to grow up near the Israeli border during the days of the 1980's Intifada and that boy's transformation into a modern day Western man who has perhaps cast himself into the role of the eternal outsider.

4) It’s funny and not just for lovers of Shakespeare. Yasser Mansour is the archetypal actor and along with that comes all the infamous actor's neuroses: self-obsession, megalomania, and an ego befitting (in his own words) 'a world famous actor'. One could call it the quintessential actors monologue: aside from the beautiful Shakespearean references throughout, the craftsmanship for me as a performer comes from trying to tackle 27 characters in the space of just over an hour, alongside the mechanics and showmanship of a lot of clowning on stage. Yasser is funny because in Mansour, Benali always gives the audience the upper hand over a character who veers from the positively loathsome to the exceptionally charming.

5) Its been a huge success! Yasser was a massive hit at the 2008 Edinburgh Fringe Festival (Times Critical List: “Pick of the festival”) and transferred afterwards to Chicago where it was Critic’s Choice in the Chicago Tribune. The Arcola will host its London premiere.

Yasser is at the Arcola from the 6 to 24 October 2009.


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