I am Yusuf and This is My Brother @ Young Vic, London

cast list
Tarez Sliman, Salwa Nakara, Taher Nagib, Amer Hlehel, Yusef Abu Warda, Paul Fox, Samaa Wakeem, Ali Suliman

directed by
Amir Nizar Zuabi

Amir Nizar Zuabi’s I am Yusuf and This is My Brother explores the effects of the Arab- Israeli War from the perspective of the people.

Set in a small village in Palestine in 1948, the play tells the story of Ali and his loyal younger brother Yusuf, who is regarded as ‘simple’ by the other villagers.

Ali is vry much in love with Nada even though her father is against their relationship and won’t let her see him. Despite this, Ali is determined to do everything he can to make Nada his wife – but when their village is destroyed, the pair are separated, and Ali sets out to find her.
The story is told in both English and Arabic and while the use of the two languages really enhances the play’s sense of authenticity, the placement of the surtitles proved to be problematic. I found myself spending more and more time concentrating on reading the (rapidly moving) dialogue to the point where I was no longer being engaged by the drama playing out on stage. The majority of my efforts were spent in trying to decipher who was talking to whom, as it wasn’t always clear.

As a result the production felt quite disjointed. Some sections were wonderful and moving while others were slightly bewildering; it was particularly difficult to connect with the characters and to work out exactly what was happening to them during the somewhat confusing middle section.

Issues of clarity aside, parts of the production were quite beautiful and the depiction of the relationship between Yusuf and Ali was particularly touching. The cast are excellent, in particular Amer Hlehel, who is superbly moving as Yusuf, perfectly capturing the character’s simplicity and vulnerability.

Meshing the personal with the political, the play presents an absorbing, poetic and human insight into a war-torn world – it’s a shame that its potential potency was undermined by a lack of clarity.

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