"...a simmering war about fact and fiction, fake news and mainstream media..."

ONE DAY IN SPRING 2017 an email popped into my inbox from the RSC. Was I available for a week in June? They had a book they wanted to do a public reading of. I was in the midst of doing a Clore Fellowship, busy working out what to do with my career instead of theatre directing. (Every job I do in theatre is my last job. I’m always just about to throw in the towel.) But hey, a week couldn’t hurt? And Stratford-upon-Avon is really so lovely in June...

So, they sent me the book. It had been written by someone I’d never heard of, Can Dündar, a Turkish journalist. It recounted a series of events: a group of journalists who work for a newspaper receive a critical piece of evidence which seems to confirm a widely held suspicion that the government has secretly been acting unlawfully; the newspaper publishes the story; the editor-in-chief is promptly arrested and put into prison. The rest of the book documents his experience of incarceration.

The text was dense, journalistic and highly detailed. It took me several read-throughs to cipher through the mass of unfamiliar information. But when I did, I saw a very personal account of one journalist's experience of risking everything for the integrity of their profession. And that was my way in.

_WeAreArrested rehearsal photos_ 2018_2018_Photo by Ellie Merridale _c_ RSC_249579
Sophie in rehearsals for #WeAreArrested

I felt that to do Can's story justice, we had to think about what we, the RSC, theatre-makers, could bring to it. Why do a public reading, which you could do in a bookshop, when we have a whole toolbox of things we could apply to it? We decided to spend the week testing whether the book, and the story at the heart of it, could, and should, exist as a piece of theatre.

And so, for four days Pippa Hill (RSC Literary Manager) and I sat in a rehearsal room with two Actors and a Stage Manager and tested. We edited, and read, and paced, and edited some more, and on the Friday, we invited members of the public to watch a short sharing of the material we had worked on. Can himself came, along with his son, to share in the process and see what we came up with. (No pressure!) We were given a generous and warm reception from our audience, and it was clear to us then that there was mileage in telling this story on the stage. It certainly needed more work, so maybe we would get another workshop, with perhaps a bigger end performance.

I was not entirely prepared when, some weeks later, Pippa sat me down and told me the RSC wanted to programme a full adaptation for production at The Other Place in the Spring Mischief Festival 2018. And so now I find myself co-adapting the text with Pippa, and working with a Designer, and the Casting Department, and Production Management, as we figure out what this story will look, feel and sound like onstage.

So much has happened in the world since Can finished writing the book. Events have surged ceaselessly forward and in amongst it all, a simmering war about fact and fiction, fake news and mainstream media, us and them, Somewheres and Anywheres, and Whose Side Are You On. Our challenge with the project is to make a piece of theatre which feels globally resonant, and yet maintains the very human story of a journalist who acted in good faith to report the news, and then became the news; a hero to some, a traitor to others, in an ever more polarised world which is losing sight of our common humanity.

So just one more theatre job for me then, before I hang up my boots…

This article originally appeared in Issue 9 of Radical Mischief. Read the full issue here.

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