Shrapnel: 34 Fragments of a Massacre at the Arcola
In Shrapnel: 34 Fragments of a Massacre, the Arcola’s artistic director Mehmet Ergan takes audiences back to December 2011, to the Roboski massacre. The Turkish armed forces bombed 40 unarmed Kurdish civilians attempting to smuggle contraband across the Turkish-Iraqi border; 34 were killed.
The studio is set simply with a green light marking a target on the floor. The steep seating in the studio builds the sense that a drone is flying above; even from the second row, the viewer looks down onto the cast. A large screen shows the view from the drone, providing a constant threat.
Scriptwriter Anders Lusgarten, provides succinct and intelligent dialogue. Every line has power. He has previously been accused by critics of trying to “cram too much into 75 minutes,” and some claim that his earlier work is “structurally awkward.” Contrary to reports, the structure of Shrapnel is neat, and the content is well-controlled. Lusgarten jumps back and forth around the narrative, filling the intimate scenes between two of the victims – an uncle and nephew – with intense pathos.
The Roboski massacre deserves continued exploration and attention. The play’s only downfall is its predetermined characters, presented as either “goodies” or “baddies”, labelled with names such as “Bully Soldier.” Actors play multiple characters, and the demanding switches between accents are impeccable; the performance is strong and consistent throughout. A Turkish columnist gives a speech at a journalism awards ceremony, criticising the Kurds: “They want their children to die… they refuse to integrate.” Sadly, this scene is acted as parody, with an upper-class accent and exaggerated facial expressions. It seems almost as if Ergan does not trust the audience to recognise that the words and descriptions are unfair.
Lusgarten says, “Shrapnel, as I try to do with all my plays, wants to make you ask questions.” This admirable aim is achieved effectively; the play does present questions, but it does not seek to provide any answers.
Shrapnel: 34 Fragments of a Massacre is on at the Arcola from 11th March 2015 until 2nd April 2015, for further information or to book visit here.