#wearearrested and Day of the living

Can Dündar (arrested); Darren Clark, Amy Draper, Juliet Gilkes Romero (living)
Royal Shakespeare Company
The Other Place
to

It’s the mischief festival at the RSC’s studio theatre. And if, as any lad knows, the purpose of mischief is to raise indignation, it’s a resounding success.

Two one-act plays deal with repression in Turkey, where an estimated 173 journalists are in gaol, and in Mexico where a reported 30,000 people have disappeared since 2006.

There are similarities in the stories of perverted justice and cover-up, but the styles of the pieces could not be more different.

The first is the story, written in the first person by Can Dündar, the distinguished editor of Turkey’s leading daily newspaper, of his imprisonment and eventual exile for publishing evidence of the country’s aid to terrorist groups in Syria. The title comes from the hashtag he and his colleagues used to tell the world of their arrest.

Journalism may be the first draft of history, but here it is itself part of the history. It is intensely moving to witness such bravery in those who sacrifice family, home and liberty, then to admire minor acts of defiance and resilience—Can painting his concrete-grey cell with colour extracted from newsprint and orange peel, or fellow prisoners tossing over his wall a sandwich toasted overnight between the bars of a radiator.

Peter Hamilton Dyer is superb as Dündar to the point where many may have scanned the programme to check that this was not the man himself. There is no happy ending, the writer unable to return home, many colleagues in gaol, but there is a little ray of hope symbolised in designer Charlie Cridlan’s set, the stage lights shining through words cut into the printers’ stone so that they continue to be projected below, underground, beyond reach.

By contrast with this straight-forward narrative, Day of the Living, although based on a massacre of 43 unarmed students in 2014, is more like a savage, satirical, musical review of the entire history of Mexico, a “scrapyard of the dead”.

There are wrestlers and a bull-fight, mime, actors in masks with the action described in voice-overs. It’s as if the chaos is the country.

Dragging in everyone from ancient gods to narco kings, Toltecs, conquistadors, priests and politicians between, the central story is easily lost in a torrent of ideas and images.

But when the smoke clears, there are visions of horror—a jolly song about a severed head with fingers in its mouth, or a description of a tortured student too graphic to repeat.

Tania Mathurin and Alvaro Flores lead the ensemble numbers with style and vigour. So resilience is evident here too, but I left the theatre with a profound sense of unease about events in countries at the book-ends of Western democracy.

Reviewer: Colin Davison