Edinburgh Fringe – The Empire Builders

In the bear pit of 2,500 shows at the Edinburgh Fringe,  this multi-award winning play from Istanbul may be making festival history,  but it’s just another production struggling for a bit of attention.   On the other hand, it has a bear of an actor at the heart of it.

NOTE:  This was my review of the Empire Builders in their first outing at the Fringe in 2015.   They are back this year, 2016,  at the Institute Francais showing until August 21 with some dates excluded.

At home in Istanbul, Reha Ozcan is a stage and screen personality; he played a police chief in one of two TV soaps last year,  with audiences of six million plus, and has been waved through traffic stops by real cops.  In Edinburgh he got punched by a drunk in a bus-stop for reasons he can’t fathom, but generally says that Scots are as welcoming as Turks.

The Empire Builders is the first Turkish language show, with subtitles, to come to the Fringe in living memory.   It carried off top production, directing and acting awards at the Istanbul Theatre Festival last year.

Selin Iscan, artistic director and co-founder of Theatre Hayal Perdesi, helped raise about £50,000 to bring the cast and crew here in an Edinburgh first.    She plays Schmurz, the haunting figure of the memories that everyone wants to forget,  conscience shoved under the carpet,  alarmingly punched and pulled around the stage, bitten and even binned.

But it is Ozcan who dominates, tragic and comic by turns, in a bearishly expressive way, wonderful to watch, a great growly  talent in any language.  It’s a tour-de-force as a family man desperately clinging to appearances, as his world closes in on him and his family, huffing and puffing,  literally bound around with tape.

His daughter, played in impassioned style by Tuba Karabey, is the only one who sees the shrinking truth, as the family lose home, possessions, relatives, the kitchen, her record player, piece by absurdist piece.   Ayse Lebriz Berkem is wonderful as the family’s frumpily proper matron, Selin Tekman as the furious  servant girl.

There’s a Waiting for Godot theme of circular descent;   the translated dialogue is fired out fast, but it’s worth the work.  The piece is sharply staged, and not for a moment dull.  The multi-award winning Macedonian director Aleksander Popovski is at the helm.

This is my first Fringe review for a site focussed on visual arts.     The Empire Builders, C at Chambers Street, Venue 34; it’s a short run that ends on 18th August.

Edinburgh Fringe The Empire Builders

Selin Iscan, Schmurz, Reha Ozcan as Leon Dupont

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