Mehmet Ergen is best known to UK theatre audiences as Artistic Director of London's Arcola Theatre. In this programme we learn that his pioneering work in Hackney is only half the story. We follow him to his Turkish homeland, post Gezi Park and post Arab Spring, caught between the Syrian conflict and EU aspirations; an emerging economy with freedom of speech still in jeopardy.
An Istanbul-born former DJ, Mehmet became the toast of London's theatre scene by creating venues- and careers- from scratch. In 2000 he transformed a derelict clothing factory in Dalston into a destination venue, twice recognised by the Peter Brook Empty Space Award. Not content to run 'a powerhouse of new work' (in the words of theatre critic Susannah Clapp) in his adopted city, he later opened its opposite number back in his hometown.
Tensions have been rising in Turkey between artists and politicians ever since the Prime Minister's daughter was mocked on stage, allegedly for wearing a headscarf to the Ankara State Theatre in 2011. In 2012, a performance of Chilean play Secret Obscenities was censored by Istanbul's Mayor Kadir Topbas. Prime Minister Erdogan then threatened to withdraw subsidies of up to 140 million Turkish Lira from approximately 50 venues, employing roughly 1500 actors, directors and technicians. Although wholesale privatisation has yet to be enacted, theatre companies openly opposed to Government tactics during 2013's Gezi Park protests promptly had their funding withdrawn.
Entrepreneurial expat Mehmet Ergen acts as our guide to this politically charged arts scene, as he negotiates national and cultural borders to stage work that is as unpretentious as it is provocative.
Produced by Kirsty McQuire
A Whistledown production for BBC Radio 4.