Arcola Theatre’s Turkish performance collective Ala-Turka’s new show is a stage adaptation of Cholera Street – a novel written by Metin Kacan. The story explores the violent underworld of Istanbul, concentrating on just one street in the city, following the lives of its residents. While the play maintains the strong grit and witty language of Kacan’s text, Aylin Bozok’s direction is clumsy, leaving the show feeling flat.
Mechanic Salih (Yilmaz Eser Durmus) is the son of the respected barber Ali (Riza Keskin). Although married, Ali frequently visits the neighbourhood brothel, while his wife (Serpil Delice) is locked away at home. When a serial killer begins to slowly destroy the street and murder its residents one by one, Salih feels obliged to look after the neighbourhood, which proves to cause more problems than it solves.
Some performers stand out for their terrific characterisation. Buke Soyusinmez is brilliant as Puma Zehra, a larger than life prostitute who has been in the game for a long time. She gets the most laughs with her tiny demeanour but very caricatured representation. Durmus’ Salih is likeable and sympathetic, but Orhan Kanalp as Salih’s brother Reco is the more relatable sibling. He encapsulates the intelligence and depth of his character which is a great contrast to some of the others, making him stand out the most. His strength is bold when compared to Keskin’s Ali, who lacks any kind of authority as the patriarch of his family, making it difficult to believe he truly has a strong hold over his children and especially his wife.
At times it becomes difficult to understand what is happening on stage, especially during the scenes where there is no speech but a series of mimed actions. These are set to a brilliant soundtrack, and evocative lighting by Michael Paget, but the lack of props makes it hard to gauge what is actually happening. The performers do not appear to present any clear indication of what they’re doing. The actors compensate the lack of language with over-dramatic performances, almost resembling old Turkish films from the Yesilcam era. Unfortunately these borrowings feel dated in a production like this, making these sincere scenes feel overly comedic.
The text itself is poignant and the the themes explored are thought-provoking with some terrifically written subtle comedy weaved in. Although some of the performances are terrific, unfortunately the execution lacks any of these elements of the text.