Theatre as Medium of Transformation

Hamlet takes a feminist turn in Turkey

A group of farmers’ wives in a remote village in Turkey have transformed their community through theatre – and it seems Hamlet is just the start

When a group of farmers’ wives in a remote village in Turkey staged Hamlet earlier this month, it was the sheer exoticism that attracted the local media. With no Time Out to turn to, the women used the loudspeakers from the local mosque to advertise their performance. The Prince of Denmark appeared on stage in the baggy shalwar of an Anatolian peasant. Gravediggers launched into bawdy Turkish traditional songs. “Hamlet becomes Hamit”, ran the headlines.

Fair enough. But it’s this slightly patronising approach that drove the members of the Arslanköy Women’s Theatre Group on to the stage in the first place. “We’re uneducated, we’re women, we’re villagers and so we don’t count: that’s the general view”, says Ümmiye Koçak, the 52-year old who abridged the play, directed it and played the eponymous lead.

A mother of three who left school when she was 12, Koçak took up acting eight years ago after seeing Shakespeare performed at the local primary school. By 2006, she graduated to writing her own material; plays on the themes of poverty and domestic violence, based on stories she had heard from neighbours. Inhabited mainly by the descendants of Turkmen nomads known for their relaxed take on Islam, Arslanköy has always been a pretty progressive place. But life up in the mountains is tough. Among men, alcoholism is a problem; among women, suicide. But what Koçak likes about theatre is that it is both a tribune and a distancing device: a public means of discussing sensitive issues while dressed up as somebody else.

Read the rest here.

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