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A CurtainUp London London Review
I Wish To Die Singing - Voices From the Armenian Genocide

"Who, after all, remembers the annihilation of the Armenians?" — Adolf Hitler said in 1939
I Wish To Die Singing - Voices From the Armenian Genocide
Tamar Karabetyan (Photo: Scott Rylander)
On 24th April 2015, the one hundred year anniversary of the death of 1.5 million Armenian people killed in 1915 by Turkish forces, the newspapers were instead covering the battle of Gallipoli, where in the First World War, Turkish soldiers had defeated the Western Powers. This was a public relations exercise to detract from the event that we call the Armenian Genocide and which has not been officially recognized by Turkey, nor Britain, nor the USA as genocide.

Artistic Director of the fabulous Finborough, Neil McPherson, has written a play to inform us of this forgotten and unacknowledged massacre. The plays starts with images of famous Armenians, the descendants of those that survived or escaped or had emigrated from the Ottoman Empire, celebrities like tennis player Andre Agassi, singer Charles Aznavour, actor Andy Serkis and reality star Kim Kardashian. How many more might there have been from this nation which was the first to adopt Christianity as its national religion in 301 AD?

An ensemble of seven actors play the parts of Armenian families and some of their oppressors, driven by the Young Turks, affected by the events of 1915. They explain why the Armenians, some of whom are fighting on the Russian side in the war are seen as the enemy and how jealousy existed for their economic or intellectual success. On 24th April 1915 the leading Armenians in Constantinople (Istanbul) are arrested and deported or killed, and on a contemporary note, among them are the writers of satirical comic newspapers.

In the Armenian communities the men were taken away and hanged and the remainder were sent on an enforced march of 1000 miles into the Syrian desert, without food and water and often clothing. Their homes and possessions were confiscated and taken by the Turkish state. The actors give us the accounts of those who survived, harrowing descriptions of extreme cruelty and inhumanity, rapes, mutilation, the slaughter of children and other despicable acts.

Actors tells us their stories. Girls and women cutting their hair and making themselves ugly so that they weren't selected by soldiers to be raped or taken to be sold. Children adopted by Muslim families and brought up as Turkish. Some reunited many years later with their families in America. Along with the graphic horror are the stories of survivors.

On design, each actor wears clothing with layers, details on the hem, the lapels, the pockets, the cuffs reflecting a reference in the text to layering. The backdrop is projected writing, moving letters from the 38 character Armenian alphabet.

Neil McPherson knows how to create a play which keeps our interest and makes us care about these events without being heavy handed. He also brings us up to date with the campaign for recognition that this was in fact genocide and ties this in with other twentieth century genocides.

Did you enjoy it? they asked. Enjoy is the wrong word. Did I appreciate what I had learnt? Did I think it was well explained and staged? Do I continue to think about it? Yes, yes and emphatically yes.

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I Wish To Die Singing - Voices From the Armenian Genocide
Written by Neil McPherson
Directed by Tommo Fowler
With: Kate Binchy, Jilly Bond, Bevan Celestine, Siu-see Hung, Tamar Karabetyan, Tom Marshall, Simon Yadoo
Designer: Phil Lindley
Costume Designer: Ele Slade
Sound: Max Pappenheim
Lighting and video design: Rob Mills
Movement: Ita O'Brien
Running time: One hour 30 minutes minutes with no interval
Box Office: 0844 847 1652
Booking to 16th May 2015
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 24th April 2015 performance at the Finborough, 118 Finborough Road, London SW10 9ED(Tube: Earls Court)
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