First published in The Times, Friday August 9 2019
Chronicling 100 years of Turkish history in a single hour is a tall order. This multimedia piece created by Yesim Ozsoy packs enough material into its running time to fuel a dozen Fringe shows. If the premise is ambitious, the storytelling is unconventional. Ozsoy’s history lesson is delivered through the prism of an Istanbul mansion, with the writer-performer incarnating everything from furniture to ornaments to create a layered, multifaceted narrative.
The tone of these accounts ranges from the whimsical to the melancholic. We hear from a curtain that delights in eavesdropping on family life and a household container, bloated with onions, that is later repurposed as an ornate lamp. One story is told from the perspective of a rug, which ponders whether the woman who comes to clean it has supernatural powers.
Pic: Murat Durum
Each of these stories touches upon aspects of the city’s turbulent 20th century history, from the decline of the Ottoman Empire and the Greco-Turkish war of 1919-22, through two world wars and disputes in Cyprus. A busy staging intensifies the narrative fragmentation. Ghostly black-and-white footage accompanies the live performance, with shadow puppetry used to depict the construction and demolition of the house. An unassuming live soundtrack is provided by Kivanç Sarikus, using a range of instruments and effects.
Pic: MURAT DURUM
Marshalling all of these elements into a coherent whole was never going to be easy, and, while individual episodes intrigue, the writing is too variable (at its best, poetic, at times verging on doggerel) to compellingly dramatise such an eventful history. Özsoy’s performance ebbs and flows in its energy and clarity. The project, inspired by the performer’s family background, is a labour of love, but it needs a more disciplined staging to do complete justice to its subject.