TAHA: Exploring the Inspiring Journey of Taha Muhammad Ali through Theatre

I spent my Wednesday night basking in the unmatched talent of Amer Hlehel as he portrayed the life of world-renowned Palestinian poet Taha Muhammad Ali in TAHA. Nothing could have prepared me for the rollercoaster of emotions that was the awe-inspiring life of the poet. I laughed, I cried, but most importantly, I felt. I felt a connection to the late poet thanks to actor Amer Hlehel’s excellent portrayal and Amir Nizar Zuabi’s wonderful directing. 

If you’re an aficionado of theatre, you have to secure your seats at a showing of this spectacular portrayal of the highs and lows of Taha Muhammad Ali’s life. It took me a while to digest everything that went on during that life-changing hour. But now that everything has had time to stew in my thoughts, allow me the honour of recapping the night with you, my dear readers – and give you a multitude of different reasons why TAHA is not a play to miss! I could go on and on about the play, but for simplicity’s sake, let me dissect it into important recurring themes that I noticed throughout.

I walked into the KC Arts Centre with nothing but the play’s synopsis tucked into my mind. I knew the play followed the life of Taha Muhammad Ali, but I had yet to learn who he was, his story or his impact. Before the lights had dimmed, the only clue to how the next hour would go was on the stage. A simple briefcase on a bench. That’s all my imagination had to rely on as I settled into my seat, and the lights started to darken.

From the darkness emerged Amer Hlehel – or Taha – dressed in a sweater vest and with a grey beard. His voice boomed and filled the theatre air as he recited a poem in Arabic. As the English translation projected above him, I knew – just by the way Amer Hlehel spoke with passion – that this was going to be a play I would never forget.

Initial Innocence

TAHA: Exploring the Inspiring Journey of Taha Muhammad Ali through Theatre: Initial Innocence
Prepared to be blown away by Amer Hlehel’s unmatched talent, his briefcase and this bench

The story starts before Taha’s birth, with Amer Hlehel playing the role of Taha’s parents as they live through the birth and subsequent death of their young infants before they had Taha himself.

With each death came more expectation and ambition that fell onto the tiny shoulders of a young Taha – the first to flourish with life after the premature deaths that came before him. We then start to see Amer Hlehel play the role of a young and pure Taha – who beams with excitement when he hears he’s getting a new pair of shoes to adorn and protect his feet as he walks to school every day. 

From the get-go, we, the audience, are given a glimpse into the life of their family. Taha’s father suffered an illness and was therefore deemed unfit to work, which plunged their family into a state of poverty. To make ends meet, their father – the head of the house – would sell tiny plots of their land to put food on the table and keep his children’s feet covered. Despite the adversity, “Taha” spoke with happiness and bliss. 

But this wasn’t the tale of a blissfully ignorant boy. He knew of his family’s financial difficulties but spoke in a way only a young child could: with hope. And that hope carried him far. With the paradoxical determination of a man, young Taha opened a kiosk selling an assortment of goods, ranging from chocolates to cigarettes, to help stabilise his family’s financials.


Even with – or rather because of –  their adverse circumstances, a significant emphasis was placed on education, the second theme of the play. Taha taught himself how to read and write, opening the floodgates to his love affair with the written and spoken word. In an incredible show of grit and passion, Taha Muhammad Ali – one of the greatest Palestinian poets – was, in every sense of the word, self-taught. 

He taught himself to read, to write and to express himself through his affinity for poetry. In later research, I came across an interview the late poet had done with PBS. Even as an older man, he never lost his passion for writing. 

For aspiring writers who may be reading this, I have but one sentence from that fateful interview: In the wise words of Taha Muhammad Ali, “As a writer, you have to train yourself to write. Write anything, but every day.”

The Father-Son Relationship

TAHA: Exploring the Inspiring Journey of Taha Muhammad Ali through Theatre: Father-son relationship
TAHA explores the unique relationship between the late poet and his father

It’s through Taha’s academic achievement that we get our first peek behind the usually complicated show of affection a father shows towards his son—yet another theme in the play.

This feat in the realm of paternal affection is evident in a scene where Taha’s father—a stoic man—tells Taha that he is proud of him. This may seem simple at first glance, but given the nature of his father’s character, we know that the weight of those words was enormous. 

One moment in the play that I will never forget was the words, or lack thereof, spoken to Taha on his father’s deathbed. By then, Taha had exercised his wizardry for poetry. His dreams of becoming a poet were a reality, yet as he stood over his father’s deathbed, he was met with what seemed to be indifference—a shrug of the hand. 

Perplexed by his father’s lack of emotion towards him, Taha inquired why his father had nothing to say to him. It was then I had the privilege of hearing a simple line that changed my life: “Your dreams are bigger than any last words I can leave you.” It felt like a knife pierced straight through my heart. The scene is what I can only call a winning move in the storytelling of the poet’s life.


In 1948, Israel began their invasion of Palestine. To say routines were disrupted would be an understatement. Lives were lost and livelihoods stripped away from the hands of thousands – including Taha and his family. The turmoil of 1948 would reshape the life of 17-year-old Taha. 

During their displacement, their family suffered the loss of their sister. As a result of said displacement, Taha also lost the love of his life, forced to separate because of the hand they had been dealt. Having to rebuild his shop from the ground up and suffering the loss of family and love, Taha’s life would be rewritten because of the cruel new oppression they lived under. 

Being surrounded by so much hate, Taha had every right to abhor the world around him and seethe with rage. But throughout the later portion of the play, Taha still spoke with benevolence and unmatched gentleness, a true testament to the kind-hearted spirit that lay beneath. By the end of the play, the Taha we see on stage reaches an age of physical maturity that matches his emotional one. 

The play ends with Taha’s invitation to recite his poetry at the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival – the largest poetry event in North America. As the play draws to a close, Taha recites his poem, Revenge – the greatest show of the love that was bred in a world of suffering. 

An excerpt from Taha Muhammad Ali’s Poem: Revenge:

But if it came to light,
when my rival appeared,
that he had a mother
waiting for him,
or a father who’d put
his right hand over
the heart’s place in his chest
whenever his son was late
even by just a quarter-hour
for a meeting they’d set—
then I would not kill him,
even if I could.

Post-play Reflections

TAHA: Exploring the Inspiring Journey of Taha Muhammad Ali through Theatre: Post play reflections
Make sure to catch TAHA in Singapore while you still can!

Throughout the one-hour play, we see Amer Hlehel take on the role of Taha Muhammad Ali with a sense of conviction. All he had to aid in the telling of this icon’s life were a briefcase and a bench. That’s all Amer Hlehel needed to hold everyone’s attention for a whole hour. His one-man show was just amazing. At one point, Amer Hlehel successfully played the role of a doting mother, an unaffectionate father and a teenage Taha simultaneously – solidifying his talent in my books.

The stage, coupled with those simple props, became the platform on which the remarkable life of Taha Muhammad Ali was told. Every move, word and pause was deliberate and aided the audience in building a connection with the performer and the story, which was simply brilliant. 

By the end of the play, I had realised that this wasn’t just the story of Taha Muhammad Ali’s life. It was the story of Palestinians alike. In TAHA, we see the fortitude and endurance of millions of Palestinians – past and present. I wondered how 1948 could seem like aeons ago, but the same issues plague the world today. 

Throughout his life, Taha’s shops had been a salon for literary and arts – like-minded people would gather and share their stories and their works. How great is it to see that even more than a decade after his passing, Taha’s story continues to inspire art like this magnificent play, an attestation to Taha’s legacy.

Needless to say, I was utterly enthralled by TAHA, and trust me, you will too. If I’ve convinced you to give the play a go, head over to the official Singapore Theatre Company website for more information, or secure your seat at this life-changing play – you will not regret it!


🗓️Dates: 2 to 14 April 2024
📍Location: 20 Merbau Rd, KC Arts Centre – Home of STC, Singapore 239035

  • Tuesday to Friday: 8pm
  • Saturday: 4pm and 8pm


  • Preview: Tuesday, 2 April, 8pm
    • Cat 1: $50
    • Cat 2: $45
  • Tuesday – Thursday, 8pm; Saturday, 4pm
    • Cat 1: $58
    • Cat 2: $53
  • Friday and Saturday, 8pm
    • Cat 1: $68
    • Cat 2: $63

Visuals courtesy of Singapore Theatre Company.

Jillian Metta Lau

Bookworm by day, concert maven by night, and an avid dreamer longing to trade pages for passports and explore the globe's symphony of cultures.

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