REVIEW: RSC Mischief Festival at The Other Place

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The ensemble cast of Day of the Living. Inset, Peter Hamilton Dyer as Can Dündar in #WeAreArrested. Photos: Ellie Merridale/RSC

#WeAreArrested and Day of the Living, RSC Mischief Festival at The Other Place, until 23rd June

Two very different plays but with a common political purpose come together under the ‘Mischief Festival’ umbrella at The Other Place. Both are performed in the round with galleried and tiered seating; each is just over an hour-long with a 20-minute interval dividing them. Based on extraordinary real-life events that deal with government corruption each play emphasises an Orwellian response: “In times of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act” — borrowed from the writer and quoted in the first play, #WeAreArrested.

The play is adapted from Turkish journalist Can Dündar’s book We Are Arrested, the story follows Dündar’s arrest and imprisonment after his decision as editor-in-chief of the Cumhuriyet newspaper to publish evidence of Turkish intelligence services sending weapons to Syria. The title is taken from his tweet — following his and fellow journalist Erdem Gul’s arrest — which went viral.

That plot summary might sound heavy and worthy but this bustles along, grabbing your brain and pumping it full of political ire from the get-go.

It starts like a particularly enthralling TED Talk, with Dündar noisily engaging the audience with his tale; he’s like the funny and inspiring lecturer that even the most stoned of undergraduates sit up for. Only it’s not the real Dündar (he’s sitting in the audience looking like a cross between a young and smiley Father Christmas and Richard Dreyfuss) but actor Peter Hamilton Dyer. He is so brilliantly convincing and captivating that the exposition of his story, here adapted by RSC literary manager Pippa Hill and director Sophie Ivatts, takes on a documentary quality. As he narrates, three other actors pop up to play numerous characters — Indra Ové as his wife and the newspaper’s CEO, Jamie Cameron as his son and Gul, and Alvaro Flores as a shadowy figure who represents fascism and also delineates the action by calling out timeframes or locations.

#WeAreArrested is, pardon the pun, an arresting original drama and cleverly executed and staged. The main prop of a large white table with words of dissent cutout of its surface is imaginatively used throughout. As the audience looks down onto the drama from all sides, we are turned into witnesses, testifiers to the truth set before us.

There’s no time to relax as Day of the Living threatens to blow minds and break hearts with its gob-smacking blend of Mexican folklore, Day of the Dead imagery, song and dance used to tell the unbearably tragic story of the night 43 students from Ayotzinapa Teachers’ College disappeared in Iguala, Mexico, in 2014. In a country where politicians, police and the drugs cartels are all in collusion, and the people suffer, the students are presumed murdered.

Day of the Living is a devised piece put together by writer Juliet Gilkes Romero, composer and lyricist Darren Clark and director Amy Draper with a crazily talented cast that includes Mexican actors Alvaro Flores and Jimena Larraguivel, alongside Jamie Cameron, Tania Mathurin, Eilon Morris and Anne-Marie Piazza.

It’s a musical, and it kicks off in fiesta spirit, with the audience invited to holler, whoop and take part in a Mexican wave – which we later reprise during an extraordinary re-enactment of a Lucha Libre wrestling match, where ‘the Stag’ (Flores) representing the students, takes on various evil opponents including the Goddess of Cocaine (Mathurin is stunning as a soul-voiced diva channeling Disney villain Ursula).

The music is in turns beguiling, funny and deeply poignant: opener A Short History of Mexico is a hilarious clever romp, while Song of the Turtles — sang beautifully by Piazza — is possibly the most haunting song my ears have ever heard.

Day of the Living is like a magical collage, it is a wonderful jumble of colours, sounds and emotions. The songs are augmented by a soundscape full of the voices of the students and crackly newsflashes, while a masked drama forms the emotional heart of the story. The masked characters, mother Graciela, young daughter Chavela and grandfather Manolo, are mourning the loss of their loved one, disappeared student Rafael; their oversized masks strangely impart more anguish and sorrow than a real face, and it is a truly extraordinary way of charting the ongoing suffering of the families of the disappeared.

The families of the 43 have insisted that the authorities ‘Took them alive and return them alive’… their demand a continued act of defiance that informs the play’s punning and poignant title.

By the end of the play the audience is already emotionally wrung-out even before the heartbreaking homage that comes at its close — I can’t tell you about that though, you have to come and witness it yourself.

When and where: The Mischief Festival brings two powerful political dramas, Day of the Living and #WeAreArrested to The Other Place until to 23rd June. The plays are seen together with an interval. See our interview with #WeAreArrested director Sophie Ivatts in this week’s Herald