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Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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Walking into Studio 2 at the Arcola to watch Yasser, I had a moment of panic; it looked like I had taken a wrong turn and found myself backstage. The set – an actor’s dressing room – is a private world that is usually hidden or overlooked. Yasser suggests Palestine occupies a similar place in the audience’s consciousness.

The play is not a history lesson, nor does it attempt to explain the Israeli-Palestine conflict. It is a monologue, performed by William el-Gardi as young Palestinian actor Yasser, who is about to go on stage as Shylock in The Merchant of Venice.

Although the drama can be enjoyed by those ill-informed about the Middle Eastern conflict, it certainly piques our interest, and draws attention to our ignorance. The two dressing room mirrors reflect the audience onto the stage, thereby drawing us into the conflict. We squirm in our seats as Lucy, Yasser’s English girlfriend, whines that she doesn’t want to talk about it: “Not right now, I don’t know enough about it”.

William el-Gardi gives a wonderful performance as Yasser, creating a character who is at once passionate and neurotic, soulful and self-pitying. Very occasionally, his delivery veers towards the histrionic and we lose the value of his words to meaningless emoting. He is at his best when using his excellent physical and clowning skills to act out numerous characters from his life and from theatre.

Yasser is full of in-jokes about Shakespeare, politics and the stage, but a minimal knowledge of these subjects will not hinder your enjoyment of this stimulating and entertaining piece. The friend who accompanied me had never watched any fringe theatre before, nor did she know much about Palestine, yet she was delighted by the intimacy of the venue, and inspired to find out about the history and politics referenced in the play. What more could you ask for?


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