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FringeReview UK 2019

Low Down

Adapted by Pippa Hill and director Sophie Ivatt, Can Dündar’s #We Are Arrested is designed by Charlie Cridlan. Originally lit by Claire Gerrens for the RSC, it’s recreated for the Arcola by Laura O’Driscoll. Sound design by Oliver Soames with music arranged by Oguz Kaplangi, movement direction by Ingrid Mackinnon. Till December 7th.


There’s gasps of recognition. This might seem curious but as adapted by Pippa Hill and director Sophie Ivatt, Can Dündar’s account in #We Are Arrested of exposing a government sounds eerily post-truth. ‘They are lying publicly to international heads of state. It’s against everything this country is meant to stand for.’ Forget Trump, insert our own arms to Syria, NHS-for-sale dossiers. The PM’s threat to review Channel 4 and even BBC licences is currently one remove from Dündar’s experience.

There is though a streak of DNA, a grounding of the original. Newspaper editor-in-chief Dündar’s 92 days in Turkish prison in November 2015 for revealing Turkey’s sending arms to terrorist groups in Syria is stripped of some context to make it unnervingly prescient.

It’s still recognizably placed, the specific detail of those Syrian arms and consciously Turkish coffee. And it’s clearly Europe, or else why exile yourself to Berlin? But it’s universalised. Imagine a further right-wing stranglehold, like Recep Erdoğan’s in Turkey or Viktor Orbán’s in Hungary: these names multiply like strands on a blond mop. Then imagine revoking a licence or two for treasonable exposé. It’s easy if you try. Dündar brings it home too quoting Orwell: ‘In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act.’

Everything in this fleet Arcola and RSC co-production exposes too. The set designed by Charlie Cridlan features three white tables that either interlock or lock down. They’re formed with an interlacing of words as soon as look at them, and bar a few chairs, paper darts of freedom later, and some literally delicious moments with a phantom breakfast replete with a lid that delivers a full one, it’s a sparse swift telling in 75 minutes in Arcola’s Studio 1. Originally lit by Claire Gerrens for the RSC it’s recreated here for the Arcola by Laura O’Driscoll. Sound design’s by Oliver Soames with music arranged by Oguz Kaplangi, brief puffs of artsong and pop song as well as brief instrumentals. There’s fluid movement direction including fits of dancing by Ingrid Mackinnon.

Peter Hamilton Dyer’s Can Dündar is never offstage, narrates his normality sliding through editorial meetings to prison. Hamilton Dyer‘s performance combines querulous dignity, a quick-witted but fatalistic sense of what this will cost him and his, including his colleagues. Yet there’s a dignified, dogged refusal to let this slip. With him, Dündar’s rumpled idealism is the polar opposite of what we frequently mean by journalist in the UK.

‘I used to have a normal life. I lived with my wife. And my son. And my dog, Cinnamon.’ That’s Indra Ové and Jamie Cameron, not to speak of the dog. Ové and Cameron multirole throughout as editors doctors prison warders, colleagues, inquisitors. It’s a fluid production where the latter two actors sit with the audience in various seats to leap out and move tables, take up another role.

Having been urged to escape to meet his son in Berlin, Dündar returns to stand in solidarity with arrested colleagues. There’s moments of Kafkaesque humour, the system’s absurdities, the soft arrests, the wry return home when colleagues are threatened. At one point Hamilton Dyer explains to psychiatrist Ové that he’s officially a persistent criminal and will persist in this criminality. Then sharing a cell with Cameron, which is truly paradoxical: they’d been denied access to each other. Now they can learn to collude – getting over their never having been in close proximity before. And then there’s paper darts, a fluorescent flourish of freedoms.

There’s the vigil outside in the snow when one then thousands of journalists sit out the December chanting. Most memorable though are scenes conjured or recalled. A banqueting scene where nothing’s replaced with plenty – an empty plate with the silver restaurant cover removed again to reveal a full breakfast, and that Turkish coffee and orange conjured from water being poured into cups where the appropriate beverage apparates out of powder.

Far more touching is the sudden break-dance between Dündar and his wife. Ové and Hamilton Dyer gyrate with frenetic abandon then she fades. It’s quietly devastating.

This story though ends on hope with a crushing ironic letter to the President. Wife and son are back in Turkey. Something’s happened in between. Two things. The price of speaking out mustn’t be silence.

Cameron, Ové and Hamilton Dyer all deserve plaudits – the first two for their characterful fluidity and touching intensity where required of Ové. Hamilton Dyer carries this though and the evening’s his. His portrayal of a quizzical reluctant hero, someone who knows exactly what this might cost yet who does it just the same, holds a mirror not just to magistrates and presidents, but journalists. Above all it celebrates the conscience to prove you’re fully alive, fully human.