Turkish actor Bülent Emin Yarar is photographed inside his dressing room backstage before taking to the stage to perform “Hamlet” on Jan. 10 at the Üsküdar Tekel Theater in İstanbul. (Photo: Sunday’s Zaman, Şule Tülin Üner)
International audiences know Turkish actor Bülent Emin Yarar from his roles in films by Turkish directors Reha Erdem and Onur Ünlü. However, Yarar is also a veteran stage actor and the 54-year-old has been reviving Shakespeare’s enduring tragedy “Hamlet” on an İstanbul stage since the 2013-14 season.
Yarar is actually in two plays at the İstanbul State Theater this season: One is his monodrama rendition of “Hamlet” and the other is “Profesyonel,” a Turkish adaptation of “The Professional,” which was written in 1990 by Serbian playwright Dusan Kovacevic and also made into a movie. In the İstanbul State Theater production Yarar plays one of the two leading characters, alongside Yetkin Dikinciler.
Yarar’s acting career began during his years as a voice department student at the Mimar Sinan University State Conservatory, a long time before he actually decided to study acting. The actor says performing in children’s plays during those years contributed to both his career and his personal life.
In a recent interview with Sunday’s Zaman, Yarar spoke about his latest plays.
You’ve been performing in “Hamlet” for two seasons now — a play written at the turn of the 17th century. What is it that makes Shakespeare so relevant to this day?
In the text that Shakespeare wrote almost 450 years ago, we see a picture of our world that unfortunately hasn’t changed a bit throughout all the years in between. In the play, we see not only how rotten the Danish kingdom was, but perhaps the whole world. All of Shakespeare’s texts, particularly “Hamlet,” are still relevant today. … And we know that this was Shakespeare’s only wish.
You’re the first actor in the history of Turkish theater to perform “Hamlet” as a monodrama.
This was done before in France. And I also happened to discover later on after I started performances that I’m the first ever Turkish actor to do that.
Isn’t it difficult to portray all the characters in the play?
The last time I tried my hand at “Hamlet” was when I was studying acting at the conservatory. When this [production] came up, I initially thought we’d be six people in the cast. I even started to look for [the other cast members]. But as director Işıl Kasapoğlu was working on developing the text for the new production, he called me and said: “I keep reading and reading, and I keep reading it as a monodrama. You’ll do it on your own.” And I said, “No, I can’t. I’m not preparing for a monodrama” — because all summer long I had only rehearsed my own lines — but to no avail! Then I started reading the text as a monodrama. Later that summer we [the director and I] gathered [for a reading] and by the time I was finished, everybody in the crowd went, “That’s it!” It may be hard to perform “Hamlet” as a one-man play, but we’ve almost become friends with Hamlet — which makes everything easier for me. Of course the rehearsals that followed were particularly important, and even though I had some fears, it all went smoothly and so here we are.
Can we say the centerpiece of “Hamlet” is politics?
I have always thought that Prince Hamlet was happy as a kid. So naive. He was just a kid, a kid who laughs, cries, who has emotions — just like all the other Shakespearean characters. This is how I always imagined the Prince Hamlet that stayed away from the intrigue in the kingdom. Until one day when his father the king dies and his ghost appears to the young Hamlet. Then begins a faceoff. … Shakespeare was such a great master that he has managed to reflect an entire range of [situations] from all sorts of intrigues to politics, and [emotions] from love to hatred in such a tiny story — the ghost of a deceased father. Up until his father’s death, Hamlet is still a boy; it’s only after his father’s death that he begins to see everything clearly.
I guess every society has its own Hamlets, Claudiuses and Rosencrantzes and Guildensterns.
Of course. In every era, in every country, and every society in this world there have always been those [characters]. Shakespeare did not just simply write plays; what he did was retell the society he lived in, the political and social situations that surrounded that society; and he actually described the world we’re living in today. Even today, people can see themselves in [the characters] in the play. Had this play not been a retelling of life itself, those who watched it would dismiss it anyway.
Take for example me; throughout the entire 85 minutes of the play, while portraying all those different characters, I don’t feel bored — not even for a second.
You’ve also been staging “The Professional” for the past five seasons and you don’t seem like you’re bored with that play either.
True, I really don’t feel bored a bit. First of all, the playwright doesn’t let you [get bored]; Dusan Kovacevic has written such a wonderful text. … And when you think of the theatergoers who have yet to watch this play in the upcoming season, there’s no room for boredom!
How about cinema? Is there anything in the works?
Yes, there’s a new film coming up, but it’s neither with Reha [Erdem] nor Onur [Ünlü]. It may be a little too early to talk about it though, because we’ve just decided on it. But I can say this much: It’s going to be the debut feature of a young filmmaker.
‘We need more freedom and equality’
Lately in Turkish theaters there has been much debate about censorship. But has censorship always existed or is this a new thing?
… There will always be systems that impose censorship [on art]. And this is nothing new. But the saddest part is, we’re still living in a world [that is the same] as it was 450 years ago, and talking about a world that is still the same as it was 450 years ago. Why hasn’t humankind moved on a bit? And it’s not enough to just sit around and feel sad about it. It’s possible for humankind to feel better — if only it could find more freedom and equality. This is what really matters and I believe someday that’s going to happen. If I didn’t believe it, I wouldn’t be doing this.
Do restrictions on freedom have any effect on art?
Clearly there have already been effects — because otherwise we wouldn’t have these very influential pieces around [such as “The Professional”]. … Often the most powerful works of art are created during times of oppression. For instance, in “The Professional,” we watch a policeman follow a writer for 10 years, but no one is shocked by this information, because these things happened in real life and continue to happen even today.