Peter Hamilton Dyer on #WeAreArrested
The 57-year-old actor is currently playing exiled Turkish newspaper editor and whistleblower Can Dundar, as part of the RSC’s Mischief Festival (until June 23).
#WeAreArrested is one half of a double-bill running alongside another new play, Day of the Living, inspired by events in Mexico in 2014 when 43 students were forcibly taken and disappeared. Two contemporary, highly political stories raising questions about human rights and state corruption.
Muddy chats to actor Peter Hamilton Dyer, whose previous work includes roles in the RSC’s 2016 A Midsummer Night’s Dream, ITV’s Downton Abbey and BBC soap EastEnders about what it’s like to play a living journo held in prison for 92 days after exposing arms deals.
Coming face-to-face with award-winning Turkish journalist, Can Dundar, last year was a “humbling” experience for actor Peter Hamilton Dyer.
The editor-in-chief of Turkey’s oldest most respected newspaper, Cumhuriyet risked everything for his profession when he exposed covert state arms deals with Islamic fundamentalists in Syria – his family, job, his city and his freedom.
#WeAreArrested, Can’s infamous tweet, inspired the title of his 2016 book describing his imprisonment. He was accused of spying and revealing state secrets, before the supreme court ordered his release after three months. Subsequently, he survived an assassination attempt outside court.
Now living in exile in Berlin, his wife has been denied a passport in Turkey. But he remains in close contact with their son, Ege, in London.
At first when the RSC approached Can about adapting #WeAreArrested for stage, the journalist thought it was a joke. His visit to Stratford-upon-Avon on his birthday is movingly captured on film.
Peter said: “We prepared a stage reading of an edited version of the book for him.
“Meeting the individual who has undergone the experience you will be playing was extraordinary, as he says himself in the book, he wasn’t setting out to be a hero.
“It feels an enormous responsibility, not only in portraying a person who is living, but also I am saying words that he has spoken.
“He was able to shed light on how it feels to be in solitary confinement, and of the magnitude of being surrounded by 10 metre high walls. You are in a dungeon.”
Adapted by Pippa Hill and Sophie Ivatts and directed by Ivatts, with a cast of four, the play is the true account of a journalist’s commitment to exposing the truth despite huge personal danger. But the RSC has interpreted the book to make it more of a universal story that could happen anywhere.
Peter says: “We have tried to remove direct reference to a particular nation, because it’s applicable to many countries now.”
Being so contemporary and political the play highlights the importance of defending press freedom and challenging those in power, he says.
“Journalists are no longer seen as impartial observers, but part of the game,” says Peter referring to a recent double suicide bombing in Kabul killing 25, and intentionally targeting eight reporters and photographers rushing to the scene.
He also cites Donald Trump’s recent war against the media in America, issuing a White House press briefing ban on journalists from the BBC, CNN, the New York Times and The Guardian among others.
Peter, who lives in South East London with his wife, and has two children aged 20 and 10, says what he finds most moving about Can’s story is the ability of other people to make you suffer by taking away the things you love “whether it’s people or the blue sky you gaze at”.
While in prison Can drew on this quote from 1984 by George Orwell for moral support: “In times of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” Ironically last autumn Peter played the writer in Mrs Orwell, a biographical drama about his death-bed marriage to Sonia Brownell, at Southwark Playhouse. “The parallel is they are both individuals of great integrity,” reflects the actor.
Can, a truly inspiring media figure, hopes the RSC’s adaptation of his book will reawaken public outrage over Turkey’s drift to hard totalitarianism following the coup attempt of 2016: ”150 Turkish journalists are still in prison. What’s going on in Turkey will be much more visible because of this show,” he says.
The RSC’s Mischief Festival runs until June 23 at The Other Place, Stratford-upon-Avon. The #WeAreArrested & Day of the Living double-bill will be performed at 1.30pm and 7.30pm, rsc
Running time: 2hrs 30 mins, plus a 20-min interval.