Review: #WeAreArrested

IN BRIEF Challenging and fascinating real-life story about one man’s courage in facing up to dark power is creatively staged and strongly performed

There is a disquieting rumbling underscoring #WeAreArrested. It’s fuzzy, not too loud and non-specific, like it might be bombs or cannon fire, but always a way away – and it lodges itself in our unconscious.

It’s an appropriate setting for a play which is by turns disturbing, determined and resilient – but not quite hopeful.

Can Dundar is a journalist who, as Editor in Chief of a Turkish newspaper, was sent evidence of the government’s arming of foreign fighters in Syria. Duty bound to publish, he took the brave decision and it changed his life. Flight, then incarceration, then exile are described in a detailed, objective manner which feels as much a report as a play.

The real-life parallels with our own current UK situation (hung parliament, impending election, authoritarian government, muddling of truths) are not lost on the audience.

Staged on a spare white set (designed by Charlie Cridlan), three tables are used in a variety of configurations to suggest barriers and most effectively, the floorspace of a cell.

This isn’t an everyman story, and certainly Dundar is tougher than most; supported throughout by his staff and family, he remains astoundingly strong in the face of intimidation and incarceration. We see the strength of a man who has an unusual creative gift, and it is this gift which comes to his rescue as we see him summon up a fancy brunch, or magic colour out of thin air. He lets his imagination fly free, puts it to the test. But imagination can cut both ways, and at times it becomes a doubting voice which tests him to his limit.

His flights of fancy are welcome relief from the tension, using gentle humour to make the story more audience-friendly. It felt as if the true darkness of Dundar’s feelings was rather lightly played in order to make this less of an ordeal for the audience, but in a sense rather undercut its drama..

Dundar’s way with words (in a careful translation by Feyza Howell) is demonstrated amply throughout the text, with eloquent descriptions of time and its elasticity, of being “a prisoner to waiting”. All along, it is words which get him through, in the shape of newspapers, letters from family and supporters as well as his own writings.

Writing is a key to the show. Letters from family and friends, and ending with a letter written to the President of Turkey seems an apt way to remind ourselves of the freedom of the written word, its power and potential for good- or bad.

As directed by Sophie Ivatts, the cast of three play most effectively but it is Dundar himself who has the lion’s share of the show’s 75-minute running time, with Peter Hamilton Dyer giving an impressive, nuanced performance of intelligence and humanity.

The ending suggests that although a chapter in Dundar’s life has ended, the story is not yet over; it feels hard to be optimistic about the future of democracy when we are all aware of the pressure of oppressive forces at this time in history. As such, #WeAreArrested isn’t so much a call to arms as a call to awareness.

#WeAreArrested plays at Arcola Theatre until Saturday 7th December. Details and tickets here

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