Turkish Impresario Scores London Theatre Hit. (Mosaic)
Andrews, Beverly, The Middle East
It takes a visionary to turn a disused clothing factory into an exciting contemporary theatrical venue, and Turkish director Mehmet Ergen is exactly that, a visionary. His new theatre, called Arcola, has, in a very short space of time, become the talk of London's theatrical community. Many of British theatre's most famous names are set to work with this Turkish-born maverick, and the local community has turned out in droves to see his plays. Now, to mark the theatre's first anniversary, Ergen has directed a lavish revival of the American musical I Can Get it For you Wholesale, a musical set in a clothing factory, which launched the career of Barbra Streisand.
Mehmet Ergen recalls, "I made a decision when we first got the lease to stage a musical every year, that we would somehow stage a production dealing with life in a clothing factory. After all, it's what this space was originally used for, and I felt it was a way of respecting the history of the building."
Arcola is situated in London's Dalston area. This predominately Turkish area, which borders trendy Islington, the former home of Prime Minister Tony Blair before he re-located to Downing Street, was something of a theatrical wasteland. Far from London's glittering West End, local residents in Dalston have traditionally not been well served in terms of theatre.
"What I wanted to do was to establish a venue which would serve both the local community as well as attract theatre-goers from all over London." To this end, Ergen raised 5,000 [pounds sterling] which he used to renovate the former factory into a theatre space, creating two studio theatres, an art gallery and a restaurant, all staffed by a team of volunteers.
Ergen's ingenuity puts other more established directors to shame. "I could have applied for funding and I suppose I still can, but every moment I spend away from directing feels like a wasted moment. And there is always the long delay in finding out whether or not your application has been successful. At the time, I just wanted to get the venue up and running ... for now the priority is to produce the best work possible."
Ergen's ambitions also extend to running the work of international theatrical legends such as Brecht and Moliere. A real challenge given the traditional aversion of the majority of English audiences to international work. "I think there is a kind of insularity in English theatre. I feel it comes from the weight of 400 years of theatrical tradition; it's difficult for audiences used to seeing the work of English language writers to be confronted with a production of, for example, Brecht. But the odd thing is that, in Turkey, audiences flock to see a Brecht revival, there we have always seen him as a theatrical god. Turkish audiences are, ironically, much more open-minded about what they see. …