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Harrowing double bill gives the disappeared a voice

The Mischief Festival, Studio Theatre@The Other Place, Stratford, to June 23.

The latest Mischief Spring Festival once again serves up some powerful new writing, this time spotlighting the violence of states against their own citizens.

The Turkish (#werearrested) and Mexican (Day of the Living) states are the villains here. The victims are, respectively, a journalist (Can Dündar, editor of Turkey’s most prestigious newspaper), and a group of 43 students. The editor is harassed, jailed and exiled; the students are, chillingly, "disappeared", probably tortured and killed.

Both plays are based on first-person accounts. Here the similarities end.

#wearearrested is a taut tale of one man’s stubborn resistance to an increasingly authoritarian state. In jail, in solitary confinement, he fantasises about a meal of pastries and buck’s fizz, with waiter service. He seems to draw strength and an ironic freedom of the imagination from being incarcerated. We know it’s Turkey, but the country is never named.

Peter Hamilton Dyer as Can dominates the stage in a bravura performance that drew an instant standing ovation. Three other cast members support him beautifully. The only jarring notes were from the one-word interjections from an anonymous upstage character. There was enough sense of threat and menace without him. Day of the Living throws us into an anarchic, kaleidoscopic world, heavy with music (11 songs), spirits that are 100 generations old, and predatory forces everywhere.

All the main characters wear masks or half-masks. This is a carnival of protest as the missing students’ friends and families demand to know what has happened to them: "Alive you took them, alive we want them back".

This is a world of nightmarish human suffering at the hand of arbitrary power, exercised by the president or by a policeman lusting after the young girl whose family’s story runs through the play.

It's powerful, but this is work in progress and it shows. There are too many tonal shifts, the company – some of them Mexican - seems overpowered by the material and the enormity of the subject. They need to pick the best songs, the key moments, the strongest lines, and pare away the rest. A harrowing but important evening, reminding us what we shouldn’t need to be reminded of: that we take our liberties for granted, and we do so at our peril.

For tickets go to:

Pictured: Jamie Cameron and Peter Hamilton Dyer in #wearearrested (photo by Ellie Merridale).

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