It can be liberating to watch theatre in a foreign language and this excellent production by Arcola Ala-Turka proves that absolutely. Stripped back to the bare structure of a Romeo and Juliet plot, the raw emotion of two young people struggling with forbidden love is extraordinarily affecting. For me it was all the more so because I couldn’t understand the language and so, with the assistance of surtitles, my grasp of the story was through my proximity to the physical expression of passion. The skill of the cast was outstanding and they worked flawlessly as an ensemble. The only set is a simple pedestal and this too contributed to the elemental nature of this piece.
The primary reasons that Mahmud and Yezida cannot be together are heritage and religion. Respectively a Muslim and a Kurdish Yezidi, Mahmud and Yezida’s love conflicts with the desire of their families which is that they each marry within their own communities. The difficulties are compounded by the politics of a land grab and the complete hatred which is shown by the two villages to each other. The threat of death, should the lovers be found out, is real and immediate.
Mahmud and Yezida are wholly convincing as young lovers. The simple joys and words are familiar and truthful, heartbreaking because anyone who has ever been in love has uttered them. This relevance to all audiences, those that understand Turkish and those, like me, who have little exposure to Turkish language and culture, is overwhelmingly moving. What the play also throws into stark relief is the human tendency to allow death to become a solution, even a goal, for violence, the destruction of a village, and the maintenance of honour and tradition. It becomes a story about what we as humans choose to value – life and love, or division and hatred. Tragically for Mahmud and Yezida, bitterness between their families forces them to choose death to gain liberation from oppressive tradition.
Ala-Turka use both physical theatre and music with a strong percussion emphasis to profound effect. These aspects of the performance culminate in a strikingly real feeling. The superb direction by Aylin Bozok cleverly invokes characteristics of both traditions such as the Yezidi circle, the visually commanding presence of Melek Taus, the Peacock Angel, and also prejudicial beliefs such as the mistaken idea that Yezidi are satan worshippers.
In this rendering of the story Turkish writer Murathan Mungan removes the role of luck in the deaths of the couple. Yezida and Mahmud choose to die because that is the only way in which they can be free. Yezida’s death is slow and deliberate. She confines herself to a chalk circle and no amount of pleading can remove her from it. Another variation that makes this play relevant to current tensions in the Middle East is that there is no reconciliation between the two warring factions. The mothers of the two lovers bond through shared pain and grief but the violence continues beyond the time scale of this play. It is an uncomfortable truth and this drama serves to remind the audience of the reality of this situation for people who want to love in regions of tyrannical conflict.
Don’t let language be a barrier. This production is a real treasure which should be seen. It speaks directly to the heart and forces you to embrace the essential message about the value of life, the foolhardiness of dogmatic belief and the strength of love.
Review by Annemarie Hiscott
Mahmud Ile Yezida / Mahmud and Yezida is the new production from Ala -Turka, Arcola’s Turkish and Kurdish Language Theatre Group, playing for a limited run in January 2015.
A sacred tree, a chalk circle that no one can cross, Melek Taus the “Peacock Angel” watching over all.
Two young lovers Mahmud and Yezida come from very different worlds. He is Muslim, she is Yazidi, a secretive religion often mistaken for Satanism. Separated by persecution and intolerance, their families must come to terms with the real price of their hatred, and the real possibility of their loss…
A powerful twist on Romeo and Juliet, Murathan Mungan’s Mahmud and Yezida is one of the most beloved and performed texts in Turkish theatre. For this brand new production, award-winning director Aylin Bozok returns to direct Arcola Ala-Turka, one of the UK’s leading Turkish language theatre companies.
Performed in Turkish with English surtitles.
Sunday 11th January 2015