Mahmud and Yezida @ Arcola Theatre

Described by the theatre company as a Turkish Romeo and Juliet, Arcola Ala-Turka’s Mahmud and Yezida is a stunning adaptation of Shakespeare’s play. Writer Murathan Mungan uses the story of the lovers as a way to comment on issues surrounding religion and tradition in Turkey, bringing to the stage a great piece of theatre.

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Photo: Arcola Ala-Turca

The story follows Mahmud and Yezida, two young lovers who are from two different villages separated by a river. Yet their love is kept a secret because their relationship is forbidden – Mahmud is Muslim and Yezida is Yazidi. When the leader of the Muslim village decides to take over the swamp behind the Yazidi village, a plan is made to start a feud between the two. While intolerance spanning from generations of traditions is ignited once more between the two villages, Mahmud and Yezida fulfil their tragic fate.

Photo: Arcola Ala-Turka

Photo: Arcola Ala-Turka

The performers were superb. In particular, Serpil Delice is brilliant as Yezida’s mother. She overlooks the action on the stage with her constant presence, and with the tattoos of feathers on her hands and feet, she is an allusion to the Peacock Angel, the sacred entity worshipped by the Yazidi religion. Delice composes herself perfectly, and it is difficult to take your eyes off her when she is pleading for her daughter’s well-being. Ozan Atmaca is also great as Abid Emmi, a member of the Muslim village. The character embodies the mind of the villagers, presenting to the audience the real reason why the Yazidis are persecuted – they are believed to be devil worshippers. Atmaca’s portrayal was exceptional, and at times quite unnerving to watch, perfectly capturing the character’s hatred.

Photo: Arcola Ala-Turka

Photo: Arcola Ala-Turka

Aylin Bozok’s direction is superb, and she includes references to Shakespeare’s work throughout the play. I particularly liked the scene in which two guards are appointed to watch the village borders at night, which mirrors the beginning of Hamlet. Combined with the lighting designed by Jamie Platt, the presence of the ghost creates a very eerie atmosphere in the auditorium.

Mungan has successfully created a play that explores the consequences of not wanting to go against customs and traditions. Mahmud and Yezida is not just a love story, but delves into wider soci-political and cultural issues, especially relating the current conflicts in the Middle-East. Mungan’s writing is beautifully poetic, which unfortunately is not transferred into the English surtitles – as is always the case with foreign language plays. Nevertheless, non-Turkish speaking viewers will still appreciate the striking movement and direction when watching this performance. It is an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet worth seeing.

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