Theatre Uncut – Turkey
4 stars ****
Traverse Theatre (Venue 15)
SITTING RIGHT on the cusp between the west and the Muslim world, the great city of Istanbul has become a vital arena for some key 21st-century confrontations between faith and secularism, freedom and oppression. In 2013, those tensions exploded into open conflict with the occupation of Gezi Park, a beloved open space in Istanbul scheduled to be bulldozed to make way for a new shopping centre. There was a rapid escalation of violence, in which 11 protestors died; and now, the London-based Theatre Uncut initiative, founded in 2010 when the UK’s “Occupy” movement was at its height, has put together a new programme of short 15-minute plays inspired by those protests, four by Turkish writers from Istanbul’s Dot Theatre, two by Scottish playwrights who have worked with them.
The plays – which will be available free for performance by any theatre group, anywhere, during Theatre Uncut week in November – range from near-verbatim pieces like Stef Smith’s Smoke (and mirrors), in which four young Turkish women reflect on their experience of the protests, to future fantasies like Hakan Gunday’s Flesh On Bone, which imagines a mid-21st century encounter in an art gallery where the paintings offer very different interpretations of this phase in Turkish history.
For me, the twin highlights of the programme are Derem Ciray’s Apollo 8844 – a tense dialogue about the threatened shutdown of free internet access in Turkey – and Davey Anderson’s Police State, about two sisters waiting in their flat during the protests who find their home invaded by state authority at its most arrogant and bullying. Whichever play you choose, though, there’s a rich first draft of history, here, about one of the key civic conflicts of our time; and last Monday at the Traverse, they were given an impressive series of script-in-hand performances by a fine cast, led by Ece Dizdar, Tugrul Tulek, Lisa Diveney, and Iain Robertson.