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Gripping but weirdly anonymised adaptation of editor Can Dündar’s memoir about his arrest by the Turkish state
This play’s title might be a Twitter hashtag – and social media weaves through its story – but ‘#WeAreArrested’ taps into something almost more old-fashioned: a story about a principled newspaper editor speaking truth to power.
In this inaugural co-production between the RSC and the Arcola Theatre, Pippa Hill and Sophie Ivatts have adapted – using Feyza Howell’s English translation – Turkish writer Can Dündar’s book of the same name. In this, Dündar details his own arrest in 2015 after, as editor-in-chief of the Cumhuriyet newspaper, he published video imagery revealing that Turkey’s state intelligence agency had been providing Syrian Islamist fighters with weaponry.
Hill and Ivatts (who also directs) present this as a first-person account, with Can (Peter Hamilton Dyer) addressing us directly. Jamie Cameron and Indra Ové step in and out of the in-the-round stage space to play characters ranging from Dündar’s worried son and wife, to newspaper colleagues, to prosecutors, to the warden at the jail where he is ultimately sent on falsified charges – to increasing public outcry.
The decision, here, to anonymise the story’s location – we only ever get ‘country’ or ‘city’ – is frustrating. Like the blitz of audio we get towards the end of real-life scaremongering politicians talking about things like Brexit, it’s clearly aiming for universality. However, in removing the details, something is lost. Dündar’s story doesn’t need to be somehow generalised to resonate. There is so much power in time and place.
In this slightly odd fashion, the play whistles through the tense escalation of events after Dündar decides to go with the story: his escape from the country shortly before publication; his decision to return and stand by his colleagues in the face of a campaign of slander by the president and government. The show’s almost procedural flow of detail exerts its own pull, to a degree, as the cast reconfigure a simple set of three interlocking tables into different scenarios.
However – perhaps because we’re now so horribly used to the idea that states will willingly destroy people’s reputations and lives to protect themselves – this production only truly seems to find its identity once Dündar has been imprisoned. It’s here that Dyer (a dead ringer for the real-life Can) gets to channel his charismatic narration into the quirks of a person.
Dyer is funny and warmly eccentric in a delightful scene (aided by magic consultant John Bulleid) where Dündar defiantly re-imagines eating his bleak prison food in a barbed-wire-ringed courtyard as a luxurious brunch. From his dad-dancing to Adele’s ‘Hello’ and a powerful paean to language to his crushing heartbreak upon reading a letter from his son (movingly acted by Cameron), Dündar’s story – and this production – becomes less about the modern phenomenon of ‘alternative facts’ and more about the quiet heroism of hope.