Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Theatre review: Shrapnel - 34 Fragments of a Massacre

Anders Lustgarten can be something of a blunt instrument as a writer, a political playwright whose work is fuelled by anger - sometimes to its advantage, other times to its detriment. There's a slightly different approach in his latest play, though: The anger is still there in Shrapnel - 34 Fragments of a Massacre, but instead of something fiery he lets it seethe, as he observes from a distance the different situations and interests that conspired to cause the 2011 Roboski Massacre in Turkey. A group of Kurdish men, mostly teenagers, regularly smuggled diesel near the Syrian border. Despite knowing that such smuggling missions were common, the Turkish army seemingly mistook them for a terrorist cell on the move, and authorised a US missile drone to open fire and effectively vaporise them.

Like shrapnel, the play scatters out into different directions. Savaş (Josef Altin) is a teenager going on his first trip into the mountains with his uncle Hüsnü (Aslam Percival Husain.) But in other scenes Altin doubles as a soldier observing the drone's surveillance footage, and following his superiors' orders to attack without double-checking; and Husain becomes an arms' manufacturer's enthusiastic PR man.

Our other contact with the Turkish military comes from the Bully Soldier (David Kirkbride) and the Raw Soldier (Ryan Wichert) whose first day is a baptism of fire (or of shit.) The pair also play UK engineers at an aeronautical company, their normal lives unaffected by the drones they enthusiastically work on in the day. And Karina Fernandez' characters include two journalists, one a jingoistic shit-stirrer who's hugely popular, the other seeking the real story and shunned for it.

Mehmet Ergen's production has Turkish surtitles at every performance, recognising the fact that it will raise a lot of emotion in that community, but for the most part it's got a dispassionate documentary feel to it (although full disclosure, my mental state at the moment is making it hard for me to fully engage with shows so this might just be my response - judging by others' reaction most people seem to find Shrapnel a lot more emotionally hard-hitting.)

The slight reconfiguration of Arcola 1 into traverse works for the production, although it does mean Anthony Lamble's set places a large projection screen at a very awkward angle for the majority of the audience to see it. The screen's used a lot, but fortunately what's on it is rarely essential, the heart of the production being on stage where the cast - despite having to squeeze in some lighting-fast costume changes - give committed performances.

Shrapnel - 34 Fragments of a Massacre by Anders Lustgarten is booking until the 2nd of April at Arcola Studio 1.

Running time: 1 hour 20 minutes straight through.

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