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Review of Shrapnel: 34 Fragments of a Massacre

Shrapnel 2 Tuncay Akpınar
Shrapnel 2 Tuncay Akpınar Photo Nick Rutter

A civil war in Turkey between the Turkish and the stateless Kurdish. A massacre which kills 34 people. Who’s at fault? This play, split into 34 ‘fragments’ for the 34 men killed explores the nature of war and blame.

Maybe it’s the army. They’re the ones that made the call to take out these ‘targets’. The language of war which dehumanises the people they are killing. They’re the ones who tell the world the dead are terrorists rather than smugglers. They’re the ones that pull the trigger.

Or maybe it’s the weapons manufacturers? At this point in the play I was reminded of a poem I studied for my GCSEs. A poem named Vultures. Anyone who studied for their GCSEs about 8 years ago will know it. It is a poem about a man who works in a concentration camp, a man who, by day, does terrible things and then, on the way home buys sweets for his children. A normal man doing a job, nothing more. This is how the people who design and manufacture the weapons are portrayed. They are simply trying to make money. The bonus for manufacturing the weapons being used to buy a greenhouse, something a normal person would do with a bonus. But does that really absolve them of blame?

Then we come to the journalists. Two different people, both telling different stories. One woman, trying to tell the ‘real’ story, if there is such a thing. Telling a tale from both sides. The problem, the broadcasters. Perhaps being pressured by the army who don’t like it, so they cut her off. Maybe it’s the media’s fault for publicising propaganda?

Or maybe it’s the Kurds themselves. After all, if they weren’t undertaking smuggling across the border then nobody could accuse them of terrorism. It doesn’t matter that, with the war, they have no other way of making money.

And then there’s the PKK (The Kurdish Workers Party). A group of Kurdish fighters who use violence as a means of revenge. Maybe they give the Kurds a bad name, maybe they give the Turkish a chance to justify their violent actions.

The play explores the war in a very real and very harrowing way. The reality of life in a war zone is brought home by the raw emotion the cast portray. In particular the pain experienced by Ferhat (Tuncay Apinar) as he carries home his dead son and has to tell his brother’s pregnant wife, Semeira, that he is dead. It made me so angry that human beings could do this to one another. Not only that, but that they could do this to one another without even feeling guilt as told by the Raw Soldier (portrayed by Ryan Wichert). What kind of world do we live in where it’s OK to kill?

As we see the lives of the many different characters, all affected by some way in this war, we realise that war leaves nobody alone. That all people in all places are affected whether it be through fighting, or through grieving or through our television screens. The point was made that due to technology we can live and breathe a war in real time from the comfort of our own home. This was shockingly exemplified when we were shown as Islamic State video of the execution of a child. Whilst we only saw the gun go off (and not the actual death) I still felt truly shocked and angered by this. Having never seen an IS video before (ostensibly because I didn’t want to give the terrorists an extra view but in reality because I don’t think I could cope with it), I was reminded of how important it is for normal people, protected from the war through distance, to speak out against these atrocities.

Perhaps for me, the most powerful fragments were when one cast member, spotlighted, told us about the people killed in the massacre. They are not just ‘targets’ but real people who like football or computers or school, who have mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers, who have friends, people who care about them, who miss them and who want to take revenge, not through violence but by uncovering the truth.

Whilst this is a difficult play to experience I think it is an important one given what we are seeing day after day in the news. It tells the truth of war. Whilst I may have left the theatre feeling very angry at the world, I also feel like I’m a better person in that I am more informed and more empathetic. Congratulations to the cast for a fantastic play.

5 Star Rating

Review by Emily Diver

Arcola Theatre presents the world premiere of Shrapnel: 34 Fragments of a Massacre by Anders Lustgarten
Directed by Mehmet Ergen
Designer Anthony Lamble
Lighting Designer Richard Williamson
Music and Sound Designer Neil McKeown
Dramaturg Seçil Honeywill

December 2011. Watching video footage from a drone, Pentagon officials see a huddle of people – unarmed smugglers, with mules – treading their familiar path across the Turkish-Iraqi border. Hours later, Turkish Armed Forces drop bombs on the group. 34 civilians are killed.

The Roboski massacre is one of the most controversial episodes in the ‘war on terror’. Piecing together the fragments of the tragedy, Anders Lustgarten’s startling new play, Shrapnel: 34 Fragments of a Massacre, dares to ask what a massacre is made of.

Shrapnel: 34 Fragments of a Massacre is a story of malicious commands and mournful commemorations; an urgent, powerful insight into the state of modern warfare. It is the first of two urgent political plays directed by Arcola Artistic Director Mehmet Ergen in the current season. The second, Clarion, by former Fleet Street journalist Mark Jagasia, an urgent black comedy about free speech, nationalism and the state of the British media, opens in April.

Cast: Tuncay Akpınar, Josef Altin, Karina Fernandez, David Kirkbride, Aslam Percival Husain, Ryan Wichert

Anders Lustgarten says: “I used to work for a Kurdish human rights group, and I want the victims of the Roboski killings to have the voice they’ve been denied. But I also want to ask a pointed question: who’s responsible for a massacre? Is it only the soldier who presses the button or fires the shots? What about the politicians who can’t inspire with anything except hatred? The media that plays along, fulminating or fearful? The nerdy technocrats who make the bombs and clock off at 5pm? This story could be about Gaza, or Iraq, or any of the many modern assaults on poor people by industrialised societies. It’s a play, fundamentally, about complicity.

Mehmet Ergen says: “This is the first of two powerful political plays receiving their world premieres in the Arcola’s new season. Clarion will question the state of the British media; Shrapnel the state of modern warfare. Both are vital and urgent subjects, especially in the run up to the general election.

Anders Lustgarten won the inaugural Harold Pinter Playwright’s Award for If You Don’t Let Us Dream We Won’t Let You Sleep at the Royal Court Theatre Downstairs. He is currently under commission to the Royal Court and the National Theatre among several others, and is also adapting David Peace’s The Damned United for a national stage tour. His newest plays are Shrapnel: 34 Fragments of a Massacre and Lampedusa, which will premiere at Soho Theatre in April. As a long-standing political activist, he’s been arrested in four continents.

Arcola Theatre
24 Ashwin Street
London, E8 3DL

Wednesday 11 March – Thurday 2 Apri
Monday – Saturday evenings at 7:30pm


  • Emily Gami

    I am a 25 year old Geography teacher who really loves the theatre. I first fell in love with the theatre when I was 15 and since moving to London 4 years ago I have tried to see as many shows as possible. On the rare occasions I am not at work or at the theatre I can usually be found on a tennis court or curled up somewhere with a good book

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