Review of Üç Kuruşluk Diktatör at Fethiye Belediyesi Kültür Merkezi

Monday, 28 March 2016 14:17

Easter Sunday fell on 27th March this year; a date which is also celebrated annually as World Theatre Day. Fethiye marked the latter in style, with a visit to its Cultural Centre (FBKM) from Ankara Birlik Tiyatrosu (Ankara Unity Theatre). This theatre company from Turkey's capital, founded in 1971, are touring the country with their new political farce, Üç Kuruşluk Diktatör‬ (The Threepenny Dictator).

While my understanding of the Turkish language is limited, I went along to the show because I simply love the atmosphere of a live performance. I was not disappointed.

The 'Dictator' of the show's title refers to its protagonist; Başkan (meaning, the President), a medal-clad autocrat who has grown long-in-the-tooth and is losing his grip on power, both in his nation and in his home. The comedy opens as Başkan, along with his wife and daughter, is forced at gun-point into a meagre apartment by a gang of hostage-takers.

Some of the best comic moments in the show come from Ezel Kalkan, playing the president's wife. At one stage she tries to plot with her kidnappers to make them dispatch her husband so she can assume his place; envisaging herself as Cleopatra or Nefertiti. Also, Dilara Tor as the hostage-takers' larger-than-life Landlady; who enters unannounced, and initially not recognising the President, gives an uncensored opinion of his leadership, followed by a hilarious volte-face when the truth is revealed.

The social commentary is laid on thickly. The director of the piece, Gül Göker, makes clear in the programme notes that the themes are universal, and makes reference to history's dictators; Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Pinochet and closer to home, Kenan Evren

A clever device used throughout the piece is a large TV screen on the stage, on which we intermittently see projected rolling news reports. While it seems that the kidnappers are just in it for ransom money, the news presenters report that other terrorist groups have claimed the President's disappearance as their own work, and make their various political demands accordingly. The contention here is clear; our political perceptions are entirely at the mercy of what the media feeds to us.

While the themes of the play are certainly universal, and levels criticism at any dictatorial regime who limits freedom of speech, it is clear that political events in Turkey over the last few years have certainly influenced the script. Having said that, the company are wise enough not to insult any particular real-life politician.

Throughout the piece we hear the phrase Çapulcu (looter), which is famous in Turkey as the insult that then P.M. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan used to describe protesters during the Istanbul Gezi Park clashes of 2013. The term soon became a badge of pride for those resisting the government.

Perhaps the most blatant and comic political reference of all comes at the end of the play, when news coverage is replaced by a screening of the penguin animation, Happy Feet. This again is a Gezi reference, as during the height of the protests, a major Turkish news network chose to broadcast a documentary on penguins rather than report on current events. The Penguin has since become synonymous with media blackouts, and has also been adopted as a mascot for the Çapulcu.

Watching this political farce, brought to mind Dario Fo. The Italian-born playwright, who has just celebrated his 90th birthday, is a master of the genre and has used it to great effect in scathing and hilarious critiques of the political and religious establishments since the 1950s. Üç Kuruşluk Diktatör mirrors Fo's political insight and disdain for autocracy, but this Turkish play is more grounded in reality; in contrast to Fo's fast, frantic and often absurd style.

The show will continue its tour to the Turkish cities of Caddebostan‬, Burhaniye‬, Edremit‬, Sarıyer‬, Eskişehir, ‎Mersin and ‎Antakya‬, before embarking on an international tour.

The ability for theatre to comment on, criticise, and even mock the political establishment is vital in any healthy democracy. While it could be suggested that journalism and other freedoms of speech are being increasingly curtailed; its good to see, in this instance at least, that satire is alive and well in Turkish theatre.

This article was first published in Land of Lights on 18th April 2016.


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