The RSC have outdone themselves with their latest Mischief Festival, highlighting the impact of real, important issues across the globe.
I spoke to director Sophie Ivatts of #WeAreArrested who was involved in adapting Can Dündar’s powerful book: We Are Arrested into a play. Following the life of an editor of Turkey’s most esteemed national newspaper, when he is given a flash drive containing illegal government activity, he remains loyal to his craft and publishes it.
Arrested on the charges of espionage and imprisoned in solitary confinement, he relies on his ability to write and tell stories to get him through. Telling the story of a journalist’s fight for freedom of speech, he finds himself risking everything for his profession.
“The show first came about because someone at the RSC read the book and passed it on to the RSC literary department. Pippa Hill who adapted the book with me, discovered it and we decided to do some research and development,” Sophie explained. “I wanted to see if there was any theatrical potential, and then the RSC decided to commission it.”
Both adapting the book and directing the production is a huge undertaking, but Sophie relished in the challenge. “It was great as it meant I could really think holistically about how it should work on stage. I envisaged it to be an actor in the first person narrating his story as the journalist, with two other actors popping up to bring the scenes to life,” she said. “Then we also added in a fourth actor who plays a menacing figure constantly in the background. The real character it is based on continues his life under threat from assassins and we wanted to embody that ongoing threat to the protagonist.”
Despite working in other areas of the RSC, this is the first time Sophie has worked on something at The Other Place – The RSC’s hub for new work. “It’s a really exciting part of the RSC to work in, my previous work has always been in the main house, assisting and associate directing on Shakespeare, so it has been really good to get my teeth into some new writing,” she said. “It has also been really great to make a piece of work for a studio theatre as in some ways that free you in the way that big traditional spaces don’t.”
Sophie feels particularly passionate about this piece of theatre because it tells a human story that is globally resonant. She decided to make the choice quite early on that although the book is written by a Turkish author and describes a set of events happening in Turkey, it resonates with the rest of the world. “We didn’t want to make a show about Turkish politics specifically, but more about, as Can the author describes it, a global illness of aggressive politics and populism and nationalism,” she said. “We’ve kind of universalised the text, so we are very clear that this happened somewhere, but it does happen everywhere.”
“What we’ve done is create quite an abstract world that at times feels quite bleak, but at times is punctuated by these moments of colour and fantasy,” she said. “We wanted to explore a bit of an allegory of creating hope out of nothing.”
The Mischief Festival is on until the 23rd of June at the RSC’s The Other Place in Stratford Upon Avon, tickets and information can be found here.