Alive from Palestine, Young Vic, London

The shock of the news
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The Independent Culture

As a piece of theatre, Alive from Palestine is exemplary. Four huge piles of newspapers shiver and fall away to disclose five men and a woman. Their lives, like the papers, are fragile, at the mercy of shifts in the wind, and the day's news is the news of yesterday and the day before.

As a piece of theatre, Alive from Palestine is exemplary. Four huge piles of newspapers shiver and fall away to disclose five men and a woman. Their lives, like the papers, are fragile, at the mercy of shifts in the wind, and the day's news is the news of yesterday and the day before.

No author is credited for the stories told and performed by the actors of the Al-Kasaba Theatre of Ramallah (in Arabic, with surtitles on three screens), stories which for the most part have the zest and pain of real experience. A few, understandably in the circumstances, are bathetic: a father sorting through his dead boy's possessions says, "I'll give these to your younger brother – I forgot, son, you're my only child." But the rest are sharp vignettes, humorous and touching, of daily life in Palestine. A couple dream of having their own mud-floored hut in a refugee camp. A man takes a call from his son in London, assuring him while dodging bullets that the shots he hears are being fired in celebration. A corpse is annoyed by funeral guests gawping into his open grave. Everyone demonstrates, facetiously or in anguish, that normal life is impossible. "Death has become normal," says the woman. "Fear and despair are normal." Even a valise, which has been dragged round the world by three generations, laments, "Why couldn't I be a normal suitcase?"

The actors in Amir Nizar Zuabi's heartfelt production are all highly skilled, yet refreshingly unactorish. Their stories deftly vary in length and tone, and combined with brief interludes of simple but effective movement – studying newspapers, angrily throwing them about, dropping to the ground in fear of attack. Though frightened of Israeli soldiers, the Palestinians never disparage Israel, or Jews. One man even says (rather awkwardly) that the God he thought was only for Arabs is the God of Christians, Hindus, and Jews as well.

Was I won over by this portrayal of suffering innocents? Not exactly. For while the Palestinians manifest no hatred of Israel, there's no doubt about the source of their troubles – and it's certainly not Yasser Arafat, or the United Nations, or their own makers and carriers of bombs. Seeing an Israeli plane, a man pinioned by a spotlight cries, "They've got me!" and is transfixed by the pilot's gaze, "his eyes sparkling with rage". (With eye-sight like that, he ought to have seen the plane in time to hide.) He is innocent, he protests, lamenting, "You took everything from me," including his father, a casualty of the Six-Day War (that example, you will recall, of Israeli aggression). Every dead Palestinian is a "martyr", though he may have died killing Jewish children or as cannon fodder for a demagogue.

Along with their other meanings, those newspapers, all in Arabic, could represent the barrage of lies and vitriol that passes for journalism in such publications. Watching the Palestinians bury their noses in them, one would like them to find some English-language papers and learn the difference, which this play does not know, between news and propaganda.

To 27 July (020-7928 6363)

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