Review | Deli Dumrul, Arcola Theatre ⋆⋆⋆⋆

Deli Dumrul is an ancient Turkish tale which has been brought to life by the Arcola’s Ala Turka Company, helmed by Director Naz Yeni. Once our storytellers take centre stage, you are transported to another land, surrounded by vibrant Turkish music, culture and these engaging characters. The show beautifully harnesses the power that theatre has to connect with all audiences regardless of time or place or even language.

Our protagonist is Deli Dumrul which translates to Wild Dumrul. As his name suggests, this man is as mischievous as they come when we first meet him. He builds a bridge over a dried-up river and extorts money from well to-do travellers by charging for its use. When Dumrul crosses paths with Azreal, the angel of death, the show takes a dark turn. Dumrul bargains that to save his life, he will find someone else to spare their life for him. However, finding someone to make this sacrifice is not as is easy Dumrul initially thought.

I was kindly invited to review Deli Dumrul as part of Arcola Theatre’s Creative/Disruption, Critic Call-Out. As a challenge, I chose a show that I’d not heard of before. You can imagine my surprise when I enter the venue and learn that the show is entirely in Turkish with English surtitles.

It’s a credit to the performers and the creative team that despite the language barrier, and the minor instances where the actors stood in front of the surtitles, I was engaged throughout. It was humorous, poignant and heartfelt. In Arcola’s Studio 2, the venue is intimate and there are a few props and set pieces to play around with. But the scenes are animated thanks to the ensemble cast, clad in authentic Turkish attire. The cast is led by the charismatic Dursan Kuran as our Deli Dumrul, who effectively draws you in to follow his journey.

In one of my favourite scenes, Deli Dumrul fights for his life against the Angel of Death. This angel is described as a red winged bird but is embodied by three witches, a trio similar to the witches we meet in Macbeth. In this dynamically choreographed fight scene, the birds convincingly wrestle with Dumrul and the scene is heightened by the striking lighting design.

On the surface, the story is a simple one about virtue, love and relationships. But it subtly examines much deeper themes including the meaning of life and death in an accessible way. When it dawns on Dumrul that he might die, he talks in poetic terms about the simple things that he’ll miss.

As is with watching anything with the assistance of subtitles, it’s apparent from the start that you’ll be unable to unlock a level of understanding comparable with those who understand the original language. There were times for example where the majority of the audience would sing along with the songs. But in this increasingly global world, it’s necessary that we share stories such as Deli Dumrul to gain a better insight into cultures other than our own and enrich our understanding of the diverse world we live in.

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