Tackling social isolation through theatre

Paul Everitt from Love Your Doorstep talks to Saray Karakus about her festival for Turkish speakers and how she hopes to tackle social isolation through theatre

Organisers and participants of the London Turkish Speakers Theatre Festival meeting in Istanbul ahead of the event, including Saray Karakus (fifth from right)
Organisers and participants of the London Turkish Speakers Theatre Festival meeting in Istanbul ahead of the event, including Saray Karakus (fifth from right)

Many people will know Saray Karakus as a strong, community-minded former mayor of Enfield, whose mayoral theme, ‘Together We Are Enfield’, captured the imagination and hearts of so many community groups who felt that they had found a champion for their cause.

Many others know Saray as a playwright and theatre producer with her own theatre troupe, London Emek Theatre, and for the creation of the first-ever London Turkish Speakers Theatre Festival in Enfield in 2017.

Saray is bringing the festival back to Enfield this spring because she is deeply concerned about the complex mental health issues developing within the Turkish speaking community following the Covid-19 pandemic. Saray thinks that isolation is the biggest driver and she is convinced that theatre, being in an environment where you can have a shared experience with other people, is one of the tools to alleviate it.

She told me: “I am very involved within the community in Enfield, mainly in supporting the Kurdish, Turkish, Bulgarian and Alevi community. There are so many barriers for our community in getting help for their mental health; lack of knowledge, lack of education, lack of language; and our community is hesitant to share because there is a fear of being stigmatised.

“Through my own play, Zaman Savrulurken (As Time Flies), I am talking about all the professional help that you can get and I’m trying to say you are not crazy if you seek help from professional people, because they are educated in this, they have techniques to help you with your thoughts and feelings.

“I am saying this with comedy because if I say this in a more emotional way, the audience will find the message hard to hear. Through laughter and comedy it is more effective.”

Saray’s play is also addressing cultural clashes.

“Our young people are having so many issues, seeing something different in school and seeing something else at home, maybe watching a Turkish TV series at home that they won’t be able to talk about at school because it’s a completely different culture, and then seeing something in school that they won’t be able to share with their parents because they won’t understand it.

“My play looks at how our young people are feeling lonely and that there is no culture in which they can exist. And so they have to create a third culture for themselves. That third culture is becoming a gang member [and] being involved in knife crime. So we have to underline it, we have to highlight our young people’s inner lives.

“Maybe we can open their parents’ eyes and they can speak to their sons and daughters and say ‘How can we help you?’.”

As well as Saray’s own play, the festival will feature some well-known celebrities from theatre and TV in Turkey to underline this crucial message and to momentarily alleviate some of that isolation.

The third London Turkish Speakers Theatre Festival is funded by a grant from Arts Council England and runs from 31st March until 3rd April. It is taking place at Chickenshed Theatre, Millfield Theatre and Salisbury House Arts Centre.

For more information about London Turkish Speakers Theatre Festival:
Visit facebook.com/londonturkishspeakerstheatrefestival