#WeAreArrested/The Day of the Living review at the Other Place, Stratford-upon-Avon – ‘an uneven pairing of plays’
This spring, the RSC’s biannual Mischief Festival of new work features two true stories exploring human rights abuses and state corruption. Written by celebrated Turkish journalist Can Dundar, #WeAreArrested describes his imprisonment after publishing a story which proved the Turkish government to be illegally selling weapons to Syria.
Bizarrely, though, the production erases Dundar’s name and any reference to Turkey. As it insistently philosophises on the duties of journalism, you suspect the play is staking a claim for the universal values of the journalist’s profession. But rather than making the story emblematic, it washes out its detail: we get little sense of who Dundar is or the context in which he works. The writing struggles to find a dramatic hook, resembling a literary memoir more than a play, and Sophie Ivatts’ minimalist production doesn’t help this.
You can’t accuse The Day of the Living, a collaboration between Amy Draper, Darren Clark and Juliet Gilkes Romero, of lacking theatrical vibrancy. In a whirlwind of song, Mexican folklore, wrestling matches and masks, a company of actor-musicians recounts the unsolved case of the “forced disappearance” of 43 Mexican students in 2014. Its flurry of colour, spirit and celebratory verve at first belies, but gradually reveals, the obscenities of the cartel-related crimes it describes. And coming on the very day that the Mexican government announces its reopening of the investigation into the case, the cast’s planting of 43 pinwheels, spinning fast in the wind, becomes a beacon of hope and a testament to endurance against injustice.