TAHA by Amer Hlehel: The Power of Compassion in the Face of Grief

As much as anyone would hate to admit, it’s incredibly easy to slip into a desensitised state of apathy – there is nothing in the world that’s worth more than the price of blissful ignorance. Outside drawn curtains, the streets are aflame with inhumanity, systematic oppression and a daily death count that rises in the hundreds.

Such is the reality that the people of Palestine have been living, not just during this wave of violent bloodshed that we, from across many seas, have witnessed on our screens, but one that has been taking place for over 75 years.

However, as the spotlight bears down on Palestinian actor-playwright Amer Hlehel, it becomes clear that none of this is about guilting the audience. Under the guidance of director Amir Nizar Zuabi, TAHA reaches down further and on a more personal level, pulling the memoirs of acclaimed poet Taha Muhammad Ali from the bowels of war-torn Saffuriya, Palestine into the limelight of KC Arts Centre.

The play is a stirring rollercoaster, its highs marked with well-timed anecdotal humour and its drops with the unparalleled heartache of loss. Growing up, it seemed that all odds were stacked against Taha, who took to becoming a grocery merchant in order to support his family. The big blow struck when the bombs of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War rained down on his village, forcing him and his relatives to flee for Lebanon. At that time, many around Taha knew him as the shopkeep of a humble souvenir store during the day but his evenings were strictly occupied for poring over literature.

For all his passion, his first poem was not composed until he was well into his 40s, yet to this day, the translations of deep hurt into impassioned art continue to live on in the echoes of his words.

The presentation by the Singapore Theatre Company is written and performed unaccompanied by Hlehel, who delivers each period in Taha’s life with a compelling sense of integrity only attainable through the visitation of an established emotional bond. Like Taha, the theatrical actor’s grandfather shares a similar story deeply rooted in the pain of displacement; like Taha, his grandfather held onto an unbreakable spirit to build a new life upon the rubble.

There is hardly much in the way of bells and whistles. Save for a leather briefcase, the narration is held sacred between Hlehel and the listener, with every word uttered from the collection of verses that punctuate a significant part of his life audibly catching in the audience’s throats, swelling until there is no room left for an emotion as lofty and as hollow as apathy.

TAHA by Amer Hlehel

Date: 2nd April – 14th April 2024
Time: Tuesday – Friday, 8pm / Saturday, 4pm & 8pm / Sunday, 3pm & 6pm
Venue: KC Arts Centre – Home of STC
Admission: From SGD 45 (Purchase your tickets here)

Photos courtesy of Singapore Theatre Company.

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