Skip to main content

Review of Penguin by Live Youth Theatre member Annelie

A review of the show Penguin

Penguin, written and performed by Hamzeh Al-Hussien, directed by Amy Golding, is what can only be described as a triumph for modern theatre.

The one-man performance takes an audience on an emotional journey from the mountains in Syria, to Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan and finally to the North of England, Gateshead. Filled with music, stories, dancing and dreams, the show captures the tumultuous and difficult life of Hamzeh Al-Hussien, a disabled Syrian refugee with a passion for performing, in a both hilarious and devastating way.

Penguin uses such an imaginative form of storytelling, addressing the audience through anecdotes told enthusiastically by Hamzeh, sound clips of his brother, immersive sound effects and of course music. Lots of music. Every word spoken is translated into both English and Arabic, projected on tent like sheets strung up on the stage. In fact, it is this incredible staging of the show that aids its talent of forcing the audience into the story. The tent is used not only for subtitles, but as a way of painting a picture. It is as though the audience are in this refugee camp, feeling all the fear, all the love, and all the death and destruction caused by the Syrian War. The use of the chalk board floor, which Hamzeh uses to draw maps and play games that featured heavily during his childhood, allows the audience into an amazing new viewpoint. He makes accessible, things that many of us find unimaginable. The use of props in this show is like nothing else ever seen.

The story is told in a non-linear sequence, jumping into different memories, moments in time from many different places. We go from learning of the death of a close friend, killed in the war, to dancing in clubs, halfway across the world. The jumps in emotions, grief and stories build up excitement and turmoil, and the audience feels it all. The performance doesn’t come across as static, instead it feels alive and real.

One thing that I truly adored about Penguin, was the sense of pride and celebration. The title comes from a reclamation of a name used to bully and torment Hamzeh through his life, due to his disability. Through the show, we learn the pain this brought, one devastating scene featuring a confession of how he was close to taking his life, and so the progression of acceptance and love for his body and his life, emphasised by music, dance and poetic monologue, is truly exhilarating. It is beautiful and unforgettable.

This show has everything. Visually, it is stunning, the lights, the costumes, the dust, it all is enrapturing. It’s as hilarious as it is heart wrenching, there are so many extremely well executed moments of pure comedy, and at the same time, scenes which had the whole audience sobbing. Hamzeh Al-Hussien is a world class storyteller and performer.

Penguin is an emotional rollercoaster that you should definitely get on. This show leaves you feeling immensely privileged for having seen it. It’s radical, it’s heart breaking, it’s penguin.

Live Youth Theatre (age 10-13) member Annelie

  • Arts Council England
  • Community Foundation
  • European Regional Development Fund


See What's On