Seven Husbands for Hürmüz @ Arcola Theatre

Part of the theatre’s Creative/Disruption 18 season, Arcola Ala Turka’s newest show Seven Husbands for Hürmüz is an energetic staging of Sadık Şendil’s classic play. Naz Yeni’s direction brings this farce to life with energy, and even though at times the action becomes muddled and overwhelming, the overall experience is fun and quite enjoyable.

Set at the end of the 19th Century in Istanbul, at a time when it was not unusual for men to have more than one wife, Hürmüz has managed to wed a total of six men, each unaware of one another’s existence. Her situation is pretty comfortable, and she is able to take advantage of their salaries, and the fact that many live outside of the city. But when Hürmüz falls madly in love with a doctor, her web of lies begins to untangle, triggering a series of fantastically ridiculous events.


The start of the play isn’t very promising as it kicks off with a confusing play-within-a-play concept which is never revisited at the end. Some characters are mentioned but never appear again, and many of the performers rush through their lines, not waiting long enough for jokes to land. But once the actual story of Hürmüz gets going, the performers are in their element, and the cast of around 30 brings to life this show with great energy. With such a large cast, the small studio space at the Arcola Theatre feels claustrophobic at times, particularly when everyone is on stage at once. That being said, I do understand that in this style of Turkish theatre, the lively musical numbers work better with the whole team on stage – even though it can be overwhelming.

Within the ensemble, Ada Burke stands out in the title role with her great comic timing and an instantly likeable quality. She’s extremely dynamic on stage, whether she’s wooing a foolish husband or pretending to be a conservative, elderly uncle, she vivaciously brings to life Şendil’s bawdy language. The exaggerated Turkish male stereotypes are also hilarious to see, and it’s interesting to watch how Hürmüz manipulates each of them using their characteristics. Personal highlights include Özgür Boz’s perfectly timed slapstick moments as the Cotton Fluffer, and Şükrü Demir as the simple-minded Memo.


With the music playing a big part in the piece, it is a shame that at times the singing feels awkward to watch. Although almost every scene is concluded with a song, there seems to be a disconnect between the musicians on stage and the actors. Song cues were missed, sometimes notes were off-key, and there was even a point where an actor side-eyed the musicians, making these mistakes very obvious. The most disappointing of all was the bağlama (stringed musical instrument) that remained centre stage throughout the play – it was only played twice and it would have been great to hear more.

The moments of confusion at the beginning of the show and the frustrating musical direction can be forgiven though, purely because of the amount of fun the company are having on stage, which is infectious. For that reason, Arcola Ala Turka’s staging of Seven Husbands for Hürmüz is an enjoyable show,that has hilarious moments of comedy, and displays some genuinely good acting.



Napoleon Disrobed @ Arcola Theatre

Based on Simon Leys’ novella The Death of Napoleon, Told By An Idiot’s new show Napoleon Disrobed is a comical and absurd adaptation that imagines the life of Napoleon leading up to his death. With mistaken identity, contemporary gags and delightfully clumsy physicality, the performance brings to life a Leys’ story in an energetic, fun and funny way.

The banished Napoleon (Paul Hunter) is escaping St. Helena disguised as a cabin hand named Eugène Lenormand, leaving the man behind in his place. He is on his way back to Europe with the help of a secret organisation who he believes will help him regain his power as Emperor. In a series of funny events and misunderstanding, he ends up in Paris, where he meets a widower who takes him in. The unlikely pair become close, but when Eugene dies in St. Helena, Napoleon struggles to keep his real identity a secret and is devastated by everyone’s reaction.


The story has been very well adapted for the stage, with witty language that’s amplified by the physical comedy, and an absurd chain of events. The comedy is interpreted and performed well by Hunter, who is hilarious both as Napoleon and as the various other characters he takes on – a ridiculous caricature of Jeremy Paxman with a wig that resembles anyone but him was a particular highlight. Opposite him, Ayesha Antoine’s characterisation is on point, and she moves from one character to another seamlessly, which is glorious to watch. Her energy fills up the whole room. The two have a great chemistry together on stage, and I would happily watch them again.


Kathryn Hunter’s direction allows the performers to be playful with the audience, encouraging viewers to interact with them and the show, which is fun to be a part of. Michael Vale’s set design is imaginative and allows the actors to be very active. A big, raised wooden platform in the centre of the space serves as a versatile stage, changing from a television studio to a ship to a Eurostar carriage. The way the performers use this set piece heightens their physicality and the humour of the show. It’s just extremely entertaining, especially during the scene on the ship – it made me want to give it a go myself.

Overall the humour in Napoleon Disrobed is clever, witty and completely absurd. With great writing and exceptional performances from both Antoine and Hunter, the show is a hilarious staging of Leys’ novella.

Napoleon Disrobed is at the Arcola Theatre until 10th March.

Untold Stories @ Arcola Theatre

Part of the SLAM season at the Arcola Theatre, Untold Stories is a collection of new short plays featuring work from new and established artists. Including subjects from race to old age to suicide, each of the seven stories brings something different to the stage, but some stand out more than others.

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Bakersfield | Photo: Nathalie St Clair

One of those is Bakersfield, a coming of age story set in 1950s Memphis about eighteen-year-old Tommy who wants to play pro baseball, but whose father thinks the army is better suited for him. Written and directed by Chris Udoh and starring Kingsley Amadi as Tommy, it tackles racism, friendship and the idea of duty. Udoh is a brilliant storyteller, who has managed to create complicated characters and weave them into an engrossing play. Amadi’s performance is commendable, bringing to life the text with superb energy, completely engaging the audience. I didn’t want it to end.

Emma Zadow’s A Tune of Two Muses is a dialogue between Lizzie Siddal (Amy Alan) and Jane Morris (Rachel August), the wives of Dante Rossetti and William Morris respectively. Much is speculated about the relationship between the two women, so Zadow’s idea to highlight the artists themselves, is a creative one. While both Alan and August perform the two women well, it’s Lysanne Van Overbeek’s direction that makes the piece feel flat. The energy stays on one level throughout, so after the first few minutes, it’s easy to get distracted and lose interest in an otherwise interesting concept.

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London-Damascus | Photo: Laura Henry

It’s also worth mentioning London-Damascus – another stand-out short of the collection. Written and directed by Nick Moyles, the story follows an internet relationship that crosses two countries. Syrian Ahmed (Reece Matthews) and Englishman Adam (Freddie Wintrip) meet online and fall in love. Moyles’ story is well written, full of humour and emotion, with solid performances by both Matthews and Wintrip. While the ending feels like it goes on for a bit longer than necessary, it doesn’t detract from the strength of the story. The tragic conclusion is heartbreaking.

Untold Stories contains some well-formed and presented short plays, as well as some that have compelling subjects that may need work in their execution. Although there are stories that are more engaging than others, overall as a collective, they are funny, touching and complicated pieces of work that entertain and engage an audience.

Cholera Street @ Arcola Theatre

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.

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.