Monday, 25 June 2007
Review: Pera Palas
The latest Turkish play at The Arcola, part of their Orient Express season, is Pera Palas by Sina H Unel; it’s an ambitious story combining three time frames, giving us an overview of social change in the country through three interlinked generations. Pera Palas is actually a grand European style hotel in Istanbul, popular with wealthy Western visitors, which each of the generations in our story have some link to. We see Constantinople at the end of World War One through the eyes of a radical female British writer and her Turkish hosts, we see Istanbul in the early 1950’s with a young American woman falling for a Turkish man, and finally the city in 1994 with a gay Turkish-American and his boyfriend, confronting his family and their mutual resentments. If that sounds like a bit of a saga, it is, and the links only fully become explicitly clear towards the end of the play. But unfortunately the play becomes needlessly high pitched and occasionally silly in the second act, with too many high dramas meeting to make a crescendo which seemed false (including an almost comically ‘meaningful’ kiss between people from different strands of the story). The play also struggles to decide of it is a chronicler of national history or of a more domestic nature, sometimes awkwardly switching from scene to scene. It’s an atmospheric production, with an oval shaped set mostly representing the hotel and complimented by a harem on one side and a simple family living room on the other, with the audience sitting around the action (though strangely not quite in the round). Some of the actors are very good, others slightly rougher, but they pull off some cross gender casting at one point with aplomb (and a few laughs too). The play is not awful, it is actually quite good, it does show the massive changes which Ataturk brought to the country, without quite suggesting where it goes from here.