MIAF: Grey Rock

MIAF19 Grey Rock - photo by Carlos CardonaWritten and directed by Amir Nizar Zuabi, Grey Rock tells the story of Yusuf, a widower and amateur astronaut determined to build and fly his own rocket so he can be the first Palestinian to reach the moon. Yusuf recalls the dazzling optimism of John F. Kennedy’s pledge to reach the moon in the 1960s and dreams of restoring that optimism to his people who so desperately need it today.

The drama in the story isn’t in the logistics, but in Yusuf’s relationships: His only daughter might be marrying the wrong man, his neighbourhood might think he’s collaborating with the Israelis, his plans might attract the attention of the army, or his assistant may stumble on the ultimate truth underlying Yusuf’s intentions.

Their set on the Malthouse stage is cut in two on an angle – a tall Venetian blind made up of thick translucent strips dividing the action. You close blinds when you want discretion and this arrangement reinforces Yusuf’s need for secrecy.

The large, wide space admittedly did present the production with a slight dilemma in terms of audibility. Some lines were lost to low volume or a lack of amplification, yet too many scenes then had actors shouting at each other to compensate, which were too declamatory to really engage the audience.

Regardless, the performances were excellent: Yusaf’s confidant, Sheik, was played with passion and humour by Motaz Malhees; His nearly son-in-law, Jawad, was played in compelling brutal fashion by Alaa Shehada; and Ivan Azazian gave a strong and empathetic, performance as Yusuf’s assistant, Fadel.

Fidaa Zaidan’s turn as Yusuf’s daughter, Lila, was a beautiful performance and scenes between Lila and Yusuf were the beating heart at the centre of the play; and Khalifa Natour was brilliant in the role of Yusuf, showing us a man driven as much by naïve idealism as he is by an all-encompassing grief at the loss of his wife.

While the play strikes what could be seen as a tragic note by the end, it’s predominantly a hopeful one. With the simple storytelling that ends the piece, Grey Rock reveals itself to be a love letter from a grieving man to his love, and a love letter to a time when humanity was still captivated when it looked up at the heavens, and the grey rock of the moon, shining bright in the night sky, had yet to lose its lustre.

Grey Rock
Merlyn Theatre – The Coopers Malthouse, 113 Sturt Street, Southbank
Performance: Thursday 10 October 2019 – 7.30pm
Season: 9 – 12 October 2019 (ended)
Information: www.festival.melbourne

Image: Grey Rock – photo by Carlos Cardona

Review: David Collins