Abandoned Shores / Negative Photographs (Turkish: Terk Edilmiş Kıyılar // Negatif Fotoğraflar) by the Istanbul-based independent theatre GalataPerform has come to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe after its premiere at the 24th Istanbul Theater Festival, 2020. Created in reaction to COVID-19, this online multimedia theatre rethinks and reconstructs interhuman relations and their physical properties through the collision of theatre and camera. Rather than insisting on liveness and bringing the performers and actors together, the play explores the possibilities of absence, asynchronicity, and lack. A play about a family dinner where the family cannot get together, Abandoned Shores / Negative Photographs redefines the theatrical space and reorients the audience’s relation to the theatrical spectacle.

A Space-oriented Fantasy

Despite its online presentation, Abandoned Shores / Negative Photographs does not deemphasize physical space. Rather, the performance’s aesthetical structure is oriented around the room it takes place in. The prologue focuses our eyes on the daughter, played Kübra Balcan, who is also the (unreliable) narrator. Her voiceover is the only voice we hear in the performance on top of the silence of the rest of the family and the objects in the room. Following the daughter’s steps, we are introduced to a grandiose table where her family gathers for a dinner. The dinner table is set neither on stage nor in a real-life household, but a theatrical space constructed by material objects put together through interpretation and imagination. The structure of the dinner table captures the essence of theatre, which can do without the architecture or the fourth wall that separates the spectacle and the audiences. Theatre, a physical space yet unbound by physical or temporal restraints, is where the impossible beings of imagination, memory, and the otherworldly could take shape.

Mother and daughter at the dinner table. GalataPerform’s Deserted Shores / Negative Photographs. Photo by Noyan Ayturan.

At the dinner table, the daughter’s childhood memories, present nightmares, and imaginations for the future blur. It is in such a theatrical space that she could meet her family, who in reality are estranged and are living in different parts of the world, if alive at all. It is not until the end that the performance tells us what prevents the family from meeting is an unresolved traumatic incident in the past. Her conundrum seems to be an ironic reversal of the COVID-19 reality where families who wish to come together are separated by physical distancing.

Sticky Camera

The performance sees the dramatic collision of theatre and film. The camera is not an invisible mediator, but an active player that intervenes in the theatre in two ways: it reveals aspects we couldn’t otherwise see through the camera, and transforms the performance space and temporality through montage and cuts. While the video mostly focuses on the daughter, the camerawork often disrupts her first-person narrative by showing angles from the rest of the family and even objects in the room. I would like to describe the camera’s lingering on the parts, details, and specificities of the daughter’s dinner guests and the objects in the room as “sticky,” sticky from the emotions, traces of time, and memories attached to them. The discrepancy between the daughter’s voice and the silent images of the rest of the family creates a forlorn emotion, like the feeling of talking to a nonresponsive photograph of a loved one. The tension between the daughter’s storytelling and the cinematography also questions who is listening and who is receiving — as the characters on stage can sometimes become spectators of their own spectacle, and we audiences can become implicated in the scene.

Daughter looking at her family through a camera. GalataPerform’s Deserted Shores / Negative Photographs. PC: Noyan Ayturan.

The combination of theatre performance and film editing techniques gives the work the freedom to move according to the rule of imagination, rather than the rule of logic. As a result, the daughter could look at her mother across the table and watches her drown in the sea. A toy plane from childhood becomes an actual plane the father pilots, and water flowing between her father’s hands a rainfall. Halfway through the play, the recording cuts from the dinner table to the site of an actual living room where the daughter lives in “real life.” We realize the dinner never takes place; it is but the daughter’s imagination based on an old family photo. The show’s moving pictures swing rhythmically between fantasy and reality, spelling the daughter’s dual compulsion to recognize the memory of the disaster and to repress it.

Mother and daughter. GalataPerform’s Deserted Shores / Negative Photographs. PC: Noyan Ayturan.

Abandoned Shores / Negative Photographs is a story about memory and dream, guilt and longing. At a time when people are estranged physically by quarantine, the performance demonstrates that theatre, with its undefined temporality and border, is the only place where the impossible gathering of the family could take place. The daughter’s longing for the presence of her family feels particularly urgent in a performance deprived of live actors/audiences. Working with rather than against the loss and regrets in life, the performance transforms the remains of an unfortunate household into a dreamscape of restored ties and conversations.

Abandoned Shores / Negative Photographs is available at the Edinburgh Fringe from Aug 6 to Aug 30 as video on-demand with English subtitles. For details, click here.

The family photo. GalataPerform’s Deserted Shores / Negative Photographs. PC: Noyan Ayturan.

Written by: Ferdi Çetin
Directed by: Yeşim Özsoy
Dramaturgy: Ozan Ömer Akgül
Cinematography & Editing & Coloring: Noyan Ayturan
Lighing Design: Ayşe Sedef Ayter
Music Design: Çağrı Beklen
Animation: Nisan Yetkin
Stage & Costume Design: Ferdi Çetin
Stage Technician & Styling: İrem Dilaver
Camera & Drone: Serdar Çam
Violin: Gülfem Güler
Violoncello: İsmail Hakkı Gayretli
“Kimseye Etmem Şikayet” Composition: Kemani Serkis Efendi
Solo Singer: Neşe Sarısözen Adalı
Project Assistant & Stage Manager: Senem Birlik
Assistant Director: Ahmet Ayaz Yılmaz
Technical Team: Uğur Aksu, Umut Rışvanlı, Aslı Dinci
Video Shooting Assistant: Nilay Yerebasmaz
Performers: Kübra Balcan, Yaman Ceri, Meral Çetinkaya, Banu Fotocan, Ahmet Ayaz Yılmaz

This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.