Pros: Everything theatre should be: inclusive, unwaveringly entertaining and delivers an important, heart-warming message.
Cons: You have to be fairly proficient at reading surtitles if you don’t speak Turkish, but the physical comedy is enough of a translation in itself.
The Millfield Theatre seats three hundred and fifty people and, as far as I could see, each and every one of those seats was filled for Afternoon Tea. With support from a core community, and a diverse range of cultures and ages, the atmosphere was buzzing at a level I don’t recall feeling so palpably before. Pre-show the auditorium was already electric with excited chatter which swiftly turned into belly laughs and intrigue as the performance swung into full-force.
Aftertoon Tea, produced by Emek Theatre, is billed as a “rip-roaring comedy” that comments on the traditions of Turkish culture at their most magnified point: a wedding. But this isn’t just any wedding. This is a cross-cultural wedding in which a Turkish family’s youngest son is set to marry a British bride.
Hilarity ensues. Cultural territories are marked, purse strings are tightened, a mother’s home is made so clean that one could eat off the floor, and another cross-cultural love begins to comically blossom.
The script (by Saray Karakus) is wonderful. I’ll clarify that: it contains absolutely everything you can think of. There are multiple forms of comedy from physical to stripped-down wit. It has romance, it has tradition and, if that wasn’t enough, it has the ultimate moral message: love conquers all. If we all treat those around us with that love and respect then the world will be a better place.
What makes Karakus’ script so impeccable is that it is full of so much and yet remains perfectly balanced. The intricacies within it hit the ideal note for laughter and prime the audience for the beauty of the moral message at the end.
That balance is reflected and is just as accomplished in the performances of the cast. Of which there were many. Each of them working like perfectly timed cogs in a machine, diverse roles that complimented each other and fit together seamlessly.
Particular highlights included the comic genius of Uncle Ibo (played by Ercan Boz) whose physical comedy (involving a wig) had the audience rolling over with laughter as did his hopelessly devoted to the British bride’s best friend routine – via a language barrier. The groom’s parents (played by Cigdem Asar and Ismet Karakus) struck the perfect balance between the comically manic mother and the caring but exhausted father.
Meanwhile the groom’s brother (played by Inan Ciftci) brought empathy and the bride’s father John (played by Greg Ryan) gave us the opposite perspective. All did so with efficiency and expertly timed comedy. When the wedding plans descended into uncontrollable and glorious anarchy the groom’s Grandma enters to deliver a virtuoso speech reminding us what weddings, love and respect are really all about.
My lasting impression of Afternoon Tea and the London Turkish Speaker’s Theatre Festival in general is that it is exactly what theatre should be about. To contextualise that, I’m not a Turkish speaker, it’s the unknown. Yet, it provided the most welcoming atmosphere, the audience was incredibly diverse and incredibly supportive.
Theatre is for absolutely everyone and that is exactly the experience I had here. Reinforced by a play that was solid gold entertainment with wonderful writing and performances that, ultimately, delivered a message we all need to hear.
Author: Saray Karakus
Director: Saray Karakus
Producer: London Turkish Speakers Theatre Festival & Emek Theatre
Booking Until: Back next year
Box Office: 020 8807 6680
Booking Link: http://www.ltstf.co.uk/about-us