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.