Theatre Tours International Ltd
Theatre Tours International Ltd
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To: Yasser
  • Written by Abdelkader Benali
  • Performed by William el-Gardi
  • Directed by Teunkie van der Sluijs
  • World English Language Premiere: Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh 2008

Nominated Amnesty International Award, Edinburgh 2008

Young, idealistic and fervent, Palestinian actor Yasser Mansour prepares...

...in his dressing room to play Shakespeare's classic Jew, Shylock. He shares his first name and his ideals with Arafat, but Mansour discovers that the Arab perhaps understands Shylock better than anyone else...

Maneuvering through identities, conflicts and roles, Yasser asks, "Can anyone really demand a pound of flesh without spilling blood?" It's a remarkable play that leads us into the very heart of conflict... where simply being born Palestinian is a political act.

In its original Dutch, Yasser won the 2002 H.G. van der Viesprijs in the Netherlands for Best New Writing. It was also selected for the 2002 Nederlands-Vlaams Theaterfestival of best new plays. The awards jury reported: "It carries the enormous fury of an oppressed people, but at the same time makes gestures of peace through which this anger can be vanquished.

Fluent in Arabic, William el-Gardi, takes on Benali's challenging, divisive Mansour... Teunkie van der Sluijs directed.

Bursting onto stage, Yasser (William El-Gardi) startles us with his immediate anger, frustration and perhaps nerves. A charming and likeable individual, he effortlessly draws us into his tale.
Yasser is due to perform the part of Shylock Shakespeare's Jewish money lender in a performance of The Merchant of Venice, in an hour but his suitcase has been stolen.
William leads us on a journey back to his childhood, up to present day, sharing with us his angst ridden memories of his father and the passion for his country, while he questions if a Palestinian should be playing a Jew?
Interplayed with this, rather odd announcements over the theatre audio system can be listened, which brings an original if jarring touch to the performance. Although humorous in places, they act as a gentle reminder that time is ticking away, adding to Yasser's dilemma.
Skipping back to his childhood and then to present day sometimes confuses the audience and with a lightning fast pace its easy to get lost. Buying the program is essential as this gives a structure which to follow and some helpful knowledge of Palestine and the occupied territories.
Well acted and full of fascinating insights into the important characters in a man's life this is an excellent production.
Humorous and intelligent, Yasser is highly recommended. (Michael Bulman - Hairline 08/08/08)

At 33, Abdelkader Benali is a multi-award winning writer and a famous name in the Netherlands, but, as is often the case with continental writers, their success takes a while to come into the English-speaking world. Thanks to Guy Masterson's inspired choice to co-produce the English version of this monologue, Benali stands a good chance of becoming a household name in England too. Not least because the action of this potentially controversial piece is hereby taking place in the the depths of English suburbia - the Middleton Theatre, Harrogate.
Captivating and emotionally supple, William el-Gardi is Yasser Mansoor - a vein, self-absorbed, occasionally pathetic, but immensely talented Palestinian actor who is about to go on stage as Shylock the Jew. Only he has lost his nose and potentially lost his beloved Lucy, too.
El-Gardi seems to put every fibre of his being into this performance, even if at times it remains difficult to see past his nuanced portrayal into the core of the play itself. This may be because Benali is consumed with a youthful enthusiasm to cover a lot of ground in a short piece - love, ideals, politics, Shakespeare, Arafat and "teaching humanity what respect is". But at least it's a promising debut and well worth the effort. (Duska Radosavljevic - The Stage 18/08/07)

An original take on the Middle East conflict.
The concept of national identity becomes ever more fragile in the absence of a nation state. A people bereft of the glue that binds modern communities together - whether real or imagined - risk having their identity defined by others, moulded by 'enemies' to become disenfranchised from their own history.
The Palestinian experience is obviously one that many modern works of theatre have attempted to do justice to. Too often, however, grand historical narratives loom over the everyday, with the banalities and frustrations of a generation being cast as mere footnotes to the current conflict in the Middle East. In contrast, Yasser, which focuses on a young Palestinian actor preparing to play Shylock, succeeds in illuminating the intricate crevices of the conflict where other works fail.
As the play states, it is almost the case that to be born Palestinian is a political act in itself. The piece depicts the mutual incomprehension of Yasser and his British girlfriend at his mother's shame on learning he is to play a Jew, opting to concentrate on a small-scale human conflict where many would opt for the polemic.
All of this is cemented by William el-Gardi. He is a first-rate actor, as evidenced by his appearance in last year's The Container, a moving site specific piece about human trafficking. His performance here provides further evidence of his enviable talent. (Miles Johnson - The List 14/08/08)

If you don't know anything about The Merchant Of Venice or Palestine, I would probably give this show a miss. Then again, Yasser performs so compellingly that even if the name Shylock means nothing to you, this play is worth seeing. Yasser explores everything Palestinian whilst drawing parallels with Shakespeare's famous Jew, whom he is playing at a depressing theatre in Harrogate. He revisits his childhood, and expresses his frustration at the general ignorance and misunderstanding of Palestinian culture and history. His bitterness is palpable: "The Arab understands Shylock better than anyone", he declares, when speaking of the feeling of being an outsider. The action is interspersed with some excellent moments of Shakespeare, making this piece altogether gripping and thought-provoking. (Alexandra Hilliard - Three Weeks 09/08/07)

Punters' Reviews

Energetic performance - (10/08/08) reviewer: Craig Pollock, Edinburgh
captivating performance by solo actor. Difficult subject matter but well written and acted.