The Empire Builders

The absurdist mindset in The Empire Builders would suggest that any endeavour to find meaning in the play is inherently flawed, due to humanity’s inability to make sense of anything with total certainty. That said, this philosophy would support wholeheartedly the attempt to do so.

The real champion of the piece is, usefully, the writing itself.

In our search for clarity in this fast-paced and often frantic performance, we are faced initially with a single ladder seemingly reaching to the skies. It captures the futility of human pursuits of knowledge and acts as the sole constant in the often-changing and ever-constricting stage space. For the space inhabited by the Dupont family gets smaller and smaller as they move from room to room, in avoidance of an undefined ‘noise’ which strikes terror into each of them – before being denied by all but the daughter, Tuba Karabey’s unrelenting Zenobia, who refuses to close her eyes to a situation that “never brought anyone any good”.

The cast teeter on the brink of caricature without ever losing sight of the humanity of their characters. Despite the many unknowns in the piece, each has moments of sympathy, which does great credit to the precise direction of Aleksandar Popovski – the discomfort with which Zenobia views the Schmürz is repeatedly emphasised through their opposing positions in the staging.

Reha Ozcan, as the father, delivers an unshakeable performance and cuts to the heart of man’s desperate need for a sense of order which is ultimately denied to him. In the main it seems unfair to overlook the tight ensemble playing of the whole company. They combine seamlessly onstage and work efficiently to create the physical scene changes, accompanied by pulsating music as an extension of the dreaded ‘noise’, which is always present in some form.

The real champion of the piece is, usefully, the writing itself. Vian uses comedy, starkness and seductively twisted logic to communicate a struggle against both external and internal conflict. His use of questions provokes thought and forces an identification with the father’s turmoil. Though widely regarded as representing the plight of the Jews in the Second World War, the play finds relevance today with its ambiguous enemy. The Turkish language with English surtitles provides an extra layer of communication difficulty which only adds to the Western European’s absurd quest for meaning. Endlessly thoughtful and definitely worth a look.

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Performances

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The Blurb

The Dupont family is prompted by an indefinable terror (the noise) to flee upward from apartment to apartment, into ever more constricting circumstances. They are constantly on the run and their world is forever narrowing. A mysterious woman (the Schmürz) appears everywhere they go and whom they continually maltreat, yet whose existence they refuse to recognise. But the Schmürz always awaits them and the Schmürz never dies. New production of Boris Vian's superlative 1959 dark comedy, from award-winning director Aleksandar Popovski and designed by Selin Iscan. Performed in Turkish with English surtitles. Absurdist theatre to delight.

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