Theatre review: Shrapnel at the Arcola Theatre

Tuncay Akpnar

Tuncay Akpnar - Credit: Archant

Emily Govan finds the makings of a massacre laid powerfully bare.

In December 2011, 34 unarmed Kurdish civilians were killed on the Turkish / Iraqi border in the event now known as the Roboski massacre, one of the most controversial episodes in the ‘war on terror’.

Piecing together the fragments of the tragedy, Anders Lustgarten’s startling new play puts together the pieces of what a massacre is made of: provocative journalists, vote-hungry politicians, trigger-happy army officers, as well as the needs and motivations of the ordinary people. Directed by Mehmet Ergen, Shrapnel is a story of malicious commands and mournful commemorations; a powerful insight into the various agendas of those involved.

The play starts by showing us video footage from a drone, where Pentagon officials see a huddle of people – unarmed smugglers, with mules – treading their familiar path across the Turkish-Iraqi border. Hours later, Turkish Armed Forces drop bombs on the group and thirty four are killed.

We are then shown scenes of a poor Kurdish family who make a living out of smuggling diesel and cigarettes across the border, as the wife pleads with the husband not to take their son with him that day. Then there are scenes involving Turkish forces; a green new recruit thrust in at the deep end on his first day and his bully-boy boss. There’s the Turkish media going along with the military interpretation of the events, and the journalist who wants to speak out, but is shut down. And there’s a particularly harrowing arms manufacturer conference where the speaker explains that their industry is in fact in all our best interests for safety.

This is a powerful political play questioning the state of modern warfare and the players around it. A passionate and thought-provoking show with authentic performances, this is one performance that hits where it hurts.

Rating: 4/5 stars

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