Writers: Pippa Hill and Sophie Ivatts, based on the book by Can Dündar
Director: Sophie Ivatts
Reviewer: Scott Matthewman
In 2015, Turkish newspaper editor Can Dündar greenlit a shocking exposé for publication. The country’s national intelligence organisation was smuggling arms out of the country to arm rebel fighters in Syria, in shipments disguised as humanitarian aid.
The revelations caused a political firestorm, with Turkey’s President Erdogan vowing that the newspaper – and Dündar in particular – would pay a heavy price. Both Dündar and his Ankara bureau chief, Erdem Gul, were imprisoned on charges of espionage and divulging state secrets.
During his confinement, Dündar wrote a memoir of the events, which was adapted for the stage as part of the RSC’s Mischief Season in Stratford-upon-Avon last year and which now gracing the Arcola stage as a tale of defiant optimism in the most extreme of circumstances. Notably, though, all references to Turkey or Erdogan by name are omitted – making this a story about state suppression of press freedom that casts a far wider shadow than this one incident.
Peter Hamilton Dyer’s Can comes across as a brave, principled man, who is able to uphold those principles by his family, friends and work colleagues. Indra Ové and Jamie Cameron, who play all the other roles, help Can conjure up a full world from inside his cell, aided by designer Charlie Cridlan’s deceptively simple set, which has some further magic up its sleeves.
The dialogue moves between earnest defence of press freedom – delivered heartily, but rarely with a hint of the polemic – and the humorous. Dyer is electric and engaging in this role, rarely allowing the severity of his situation to dim his optimism. When despair comes, as it surely must, it hits like a wave thanks to Dyer’s embodiment of the role.
While in prison, Dündar was denied any coloured pencils; in a further act of defiance, he made himself coloured paints from pressing fruit, determined to show that colour can exist in the darkest of places. His action is represented on stage by a simple, but effective, conjuring trick; but the whole play is a testament to that effect, providing us with inspirational colour about the darkest of subjects.
Runs until 7 December 2019 | Image: Ellie Merridale © RSC