Sunday, 26 April 2015

Theatre review: I Wish To Die Singing

Finborough boss Neil McPherson takes a break from reading new and forgotten plays to put one of his own together, a verbatim play about events in 1915 and later. I Wish To Die Singing - Voices from the Armenian Genocide mixes the history of Turkey during the First World War (the show is part of the occasional THEGREATWAR100 series) with the accounts of those who survived a massacre that inspired the very term "genocide" to be invented and officially defined. With Turkey having sided with Germany in the war and suffering a major defeat, a scapegoat was sought. The Christian Armenians, long the business leaders in the Ottoman Empire and resented for it, made for an easy and popular target, and brutal "cleansing" was ordered. The fact that this genocide was largely forgotten or denied within a couple of decades is quoted as a reason Hitler felt encouraged to follow a similar course of action with the Jews.

The play takes the form of a lecture, performed by Jilly Bond, describing the history behind the massacre, the events of 1915 and '16, and the aftermath. It's interspersed with dramatised accounts from those who experienced it and survived.

There are plenty of powerful moments - Bevan Celestine and Tamar Karabetyan are strong as children caught in the horrors, and Siu-See Hung's impression of a seven-year-old girl is also a thing that happens. The play doesn't always run smoothly between its various threads though, and Tommo Fowler's production feels a bit unbalanced.

The ultimate point I Wish To Die Singing is trying to make is that while the UN has acknowledged it as a genocide, having defined the term around it, the events have not been universally acknowledged as such even now - not just Turkey, but Britain and the US, who have military interests there, have not yet formally declared it to have happened in the way described. It's an important historical note that should be addressed, but the focus on this at the end does add to the general imbalance of a show that can't quite string all its, sometimes very well realised, strands together.

I Wish To Die Singing by Neil McPherson is booking until the 16th of May at the Finborough Theatre.

Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes straight through.

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