Review: #WeAreArrested (Arcola Theatre)

Arcola Theatre’s first co-production with the Royal Shakespeare Company is a story about the cost of reporting the truth in the age of fake news

Peter Hamilton Dyer in #WeAreArrested
Peter Hamilton Dyer in #WeAreArrested
© Ellie Merridale, RSC

A co-production between the Arcola Theatre and the RSC, #WeAreArrested is an adaptation (by Pippa Hill and Sophie Ivatts) of Turkish journalist Can Dündar's memoir. A politically-charged hour of storytelling, the production explores how we can fight for the truth in a network of lies.

When the editor-in-chief of a national paper is sent video evidence of illegal government activity, he is duty-bound by his own standards ("Is it genuine? And is it in the public interest to see this?") to publish it. But, as the nation gradually becomes more destabilised and divided, a sinister power ensures he pays the price for sharing the footage. It's a timely set of events to tell on stage, particularly as we live in a time when authoritarian governments are on the rise and it is becoming increasingly more difficult to trust political media outlets.

As the journalist in question (we are given no name but in the script he is called Can), Peter Hamilton Dyer holds the audience captive as he tells of how the events take place, with support from Jamie Cameron and Indra Ové who multi-role as other journalists, his wife, prison wardens and so forth. Sophie Ivatts' production has the audience sat in the round with the actors taking seats in the audience throughout the performance, further developing the sense that we are part of something larger whilst watching, rather than just spectators.

Charlie Cridlan's set design is simple and effective: three crisp white tables fitting together to create a larger one, each with words both cut out of them and written up the sides. Claire Gerrens' (recreated by Laura O'Driscoll) lighting design shines through the furniture, projecting text onto the floor. The words aren't real – though they look so at first glance – instead the letters are jumbled like smeared newsprint.

Flashes of stage magic are used while Dyer's journalist sits in prison, adding literal touches of colour to his now dampened world. Water turns into bucks fizz (and with it, Dyer sings a bit of the Eurovision-winning song), cardboard toast turns to pastries and the white tables fill with colour
when they are splashed with water. These simple tricks by magic consultant John Bulleid add a delightful element of surprise at the right moments in the production just as it errs on becoming more of a radio play with little theatrics. There is an even bigger (non-magical) surprise at the climax of the piece which may startle audiences, but excellently jolts us back to the political reality of the journalist's situation. There is always the possibility of uprisings and rebellion.

Though based on real events which happened in Turkey, there is no allusion to a specific time or place in the production. British accents are used alongside the words "president" and "homeland", and it is not until the final five minutes – when Oliver Soames' sound design mixes news reports from the time period with the UK's own headlines – that you begin to clock the enormity of the situation, and how this could really happen anywhere.

At a gripping, rapid 75 minutes, #WeAreArrested is an urgent piece of theatre which asks us to scrutinise what we know is true, and how we can fight to keep it so.