BWW Review: #WEAREARRESTED, Arcola Theatre
Back in May 2015, news broke that the Turkish State Intelligence were shipping weapons to Syria. Can Dündar was the editor-in-chief who decided to take the risk and publish the story after receiving a flash drive with images of the weaponry. He was arrested in November on the grounds of espionage and being a member of a terror organisation. His unlawful imprisonment kick-started an intellectual resistance movement and garnered him worldwide support.
While he was in confinement, he wrote a book detailing his life in prison and the circumstances that led to it. Commissioned by The Royal Shakespeare Company and first produced as part of the RSC's Mischief Festival at The Other Palace last year, #WeAreArrested is the stage adaptation of his account written by Pippa Hill and Sophie Ivatts, with the latter also directing. The piece is an unequivocal denunciation of the authoritarian politics that permeate a democracy that is such only by perception.
It presents a thrilling battle of words and ideas matched by exceptionally detailed narration. The tale that develops is a tragic violation of freedom of speech and expression, but not without wit and humour. Hill and Ivatts introduce Dündar first and foremost as a writer. His imagination and spirit are unrestrainable, and Peter Hamilton Dyer is a quiet storm as the journalist. Jamie Cameron and Indra Ové take on a multitude of characters, starting from his close family to his colleagues at the paper.
It's an eloquent and busy play, both ideologically and in its staging. Ivatts occupies the entirety of the Arcola's main stage, moving her three actors around like bees in a hive. When the show is visually and physically more restrained, Hamilton Dyer and the script become the only buzzing force in it. Humorous throughout, the material discusses the role and duty of journalism during times of political unrest as well as the responsibility of divulging information that put one in danger.
He is captivating in his storytelling: he describes the lead-up to Can's arrest and then his time in prison vividly, bringing colour to the events just as his real-life counterpart did when he was locked up. The writing triggers and bolsters his performance, feeding the performer notable prose with a poetic quality to it. The alternation of whimsy, solemnity, and urgency makes #WeAreArrested a galvanising experience. While the specifics of the Turkish political climate are glossed over, the outcome of their presence are a jarring wake-up call.
By focusing on the living conditions of Can as a prisoner, Hill and Ivatts are able to elevate the man's vision to highlight the importance of autonomy of thought and its power. The large composite wrought-iron table that makes up the majority of Charlie Cridlan's set design goes from being the editorial battleground that sees Can taking his life-changing decision to turning into the confines of his cell. As he sits on it, pondering the reasons of his incarceration and the impact of his news, he becomes truly free.
The production is undeniably grounded in its political stance and governmental criticism, but gradually rises above its core blasts becoming a momentous warning before it's taken back to the ruthless consequences of its biographical plight. #WeAreArrested is an inspiring and pivotal piece that balances beautiful writing with a significant grander meaning.
Image curtesy of Ellie Merridale © RSC