#We are arrested at Arcola Theatre: A truthful adaptation of a story that brings liberal democracy to our scrutiny
Who decides what’s worth knowing? To what limit can our leaders’ crimes be passed off as “state secrets”? We Are Arrested is not a play for comfortable, empty-headed viewing. It is packed with questions most of us think we know the answers to. Questions like these have intuitive answers in a civilised democracy.
Surely we all agree that the nature of truth is in no government’s remit? Surely the public can be trusted to discern good information from bad? Surely, we do not elect criminals.
Can Dündar is a journalist with a passion for forthright debate about society’s basic principles. Writing in The Guardian in 2015, Dundar asks ‘When the stamp of “state secret” has turned into a veil concealing the dirty dealings of administrations, is it not the duty of a journalist to tear it away? Who determines what is in the best interests of the society?’ For Dündar, the answers were very plain. He was arrested and placed in solitary confinement for exposing covert arms deals by the Turkish intelligence service. From there he produced his memoirs, a colourful account of his experiences titled We Are Arrested.
Pippa Hill and Sophie Ivatts’ stage adaptation of the same name brings this strident story of repression and indignation to The Arcola, with the artful help of the Royal Shakespeare Company, they create a play that knuckles down to talk turkey on the state of liberal democracy and press freedom.
The play should be praised for managing to be witty while handling this shadowy subject, but it should not go unnoted that a fair slice of the play’s humour felt forced, like a floundering optimist trying to light a football pitch with a zippo. But its more subtle employment of humour worked charms and held the light up to the absurdity of the system persecuting those who dare to write: Who introduced you to crime? / My mother. You see, when I was a baby, she read me books and that way she prepared me for crime.
The text runs fluidly and the story falls together neatly. Peter Hamilton Dyer (Dündar) is an actor whose hands you feel safe in. He seems to be able to work with the slightest distraction in the auditorium and cast out the boundaries of the play’s world beyond the stage. His firm grasp on the narrative made for a seamless journey.
For its short run time, bizarre humour and rather gingerly multiroled characters, We Are Arrested received a predictable standing ovation. It holds up a clenched fist of solidarity to tellers of truth and (if only for 75 minutes) displaced some of that looming cultural pessimism we all seem to feel about this notion of ‘the truth’ nowadays. Truthfully executed, most of the integral performances were honestly borne. Cleverly written and valiantly principled, We Are Arrested is a story we are civically obliged to pay attention to.
#We are Arrested runs from the 13th November to 7th December at the Arcola Theatre.
You can buy your you tickets here.
Photo Credit: Ellie Merridale © RSC