‘Tutuklandık’. In English, ‘WeAreArrested’.
This is what Turkish journalist Can Dündar tweeted on 26th November, 2015. He was then escorted to a pre-trial detention centre where he was imprisoned for 92 days. The crime? According to the Turkish government, Dündar’s decision to publish footage showing Turkey transporting weapons into Syria was considered espionage, and a divulgence of state secrets.
#WeAreArrested is the dramatization of Dündar’s book recounting his experience, translated by Feyza Howell and then adapted for the stage by Pippa Hilla and Sophie Ivatts. As Dündar, Peter Hamilton Dyer enters the Arcola, coat on and bag in hand, and proceeds to tell his story in chronological order.
Dyer as a semi-narrator is accompanied by Indra Ové and Jamie Cameron who play his wife and son, as well as a number of other characters. While Dyer remains onstage, Ové and Cameron leap in and out of seats from the audience, playing both witnesses and participants. A gifted storyteller, with a likeness to Dündar, Dyer captures and shares Dündar’s perspective and his unwavering principles with the audience.
The direct narrative quality is absorbing but somewhat restricting, particularly when facing burdensome bits of initial exposition. Once Dündar is in prison, everything relaxes and more life is breathed into the space. Dyer is able to bring out Dündar’s unique sense of humour here, absent until now, and director Sophie Ivatts adds in magic tricks, designed by John Bullied. A burnt piece of toast transforms into a pastry buffet, and an otherwise monochromatic set turns technicolour. Demonstrating Dündar’s creativity and persistent sense of optimism, these touches build an evocative world of solitude and contemplation. Dyer dances awkwardly and endearingly with Ové as his wife to Adele’s Hello. It’s definitely a weird choice of song, but it’s also strangely moving.
Because it’s all from Dündar’s perspective however, #WeAreArrested does feel somewhat limited. His colleague, Erdem Gul, was also imprisoned, and for some of their time they shared the same prison quarters. But Gul, here played by Cameron, is underexplored. The same can be said for Dündar’s family, whose support is depicted as unwavering and yet little is shown on how they managed to cope.
Ivatts does try to instill an atmosphere of suspicion and obscured truths through a series of voiceovers (including Kelly Anne Conway’s now infamous ‘alternative facts’ quote). Yet the world outside the prison seems distant, and so when the Constitutional Court rules in favour of Dündar’s appeal and he is released, it’s hard as an audience to gauge the feel of this moment. More hurried still is the representation of what happens to Dündar on the morning of his trial, which catapults us too quickly into the present day, Berlin, where Dündar now lives in exile.
#WeAreArrested is engrossing in its retelling of true events, and in its adamant defence of Dündar’s call for freedom of the press. It is, of course, a reflection, and so perhaps more of a reflective quality built into the script would draw out its impact. Where it ends, in Berlin, is where it becomes most interesting – a continued and perhaps endless perpetual state of waiting, a real test of fighting for what you believe in.
#WeAreArrested is on at Arcola Theatre till 7th December. More details here.