Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Aylin Bozok: The Importance Of Being Earnest – Played By Immigrants

By | Published on Friday 10 January 2020

Currently completing a run at London’s Tower Theatre is a staging of Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Importance Of Being Earnest’ which takes a very fresh and intriguing approach to the classic text, not least because the cast is made up entirely of immigrants to the UK.

To find out more about the production and this interesting approach, I spoke to the play’s director Aylin Bozok.

CM: Most readers will probably be familiar with ‘The Importance Of Being Earnest’, but for those who aren’t, can you explain what the play is about?
AB: The plot, just like the truth, is “never simple”. Although it may look like we are following the story of two men of high society trying to be accepted for who they are as they go on to marry their beloved the real focus is the question of identity. Who are we really? More important than the questions our birth or heritage is the question of who we are and our place in to society, to others but also to ourselves.

CM: It’s an old and well-loved play: what approach have you taken to it, and what themes do you explore through it?
AB: The main theme I wanted to explore is identity regardless of nationality, gender, sexual orientation, religious or political views. This production’s cast is made entirely of ‘immigrants’. I myself am an immigrant and it was a challenge to stage a quintessentially English play – that was also written by an immigrant – from the perspective of an outsider.

The reason for this was to emphasise the universal existentialist question of “who am I” that persistently resides in whatever we do, no matter where we are from or what language we have learned first, whom we fall in love with or what gender we identify as. The idea of belonging and not belonging is not dependent on where we live but on the journey we have taken to come to know the core of ourselves.

CM: What made you decide you would like to direct a production of it?
AB: I’ve always been fascinated by Oscar Wilde and his way of storytelling. I find it honest, witty, poetic and very musical. As an opera director, one of the first pieces that caught my attention was ‘Salome’ which is a masterpiece in my opinion.

I had not directed many comedies myself but I thought that if I did, I should start with a writer I adore and that’s what happened. ‘The Importance Of Being Earnest’ has a very dark sense of humour which I can empathise with and I’ve always been in favour of plays that questioned identity and sense of self within the society that surrounds us.

CM: How have your own personal experiences informed your handling of the play?
AB: Being a single child and having left home considerably early I have always been dependent on myself and my journey of finding my identity started very young. Just like Jack and Algernon, even if we think we have an idea about our ancestors and families, this does not necessarily affect our upbringing. It is quite possible to be raised entirely differently than expected due to circumstances. Therefore, I believe that who our family is or where we come from doesn’t have that much to do with who we are.

CM: Can you tell us about the cast, and how it was assembled?
AB: The cast is formed entirely of immigrants. I myself am Swiss-Turkish. We had a few days of casting and managed to find wonderful actors who all spoke their first words in another language. We’ve also changed two male roles into female roles.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about Pan Productions?
AB: I’m not actually part of Pan Productions and was hired to direct this production, but PP produces Turkish-speaking cultural events in London, offering a range of events such as concerts, plays and exhibitions. This will be PP’s first production in English.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about you, now? Were you always planning a career in the arts?
AB: I come from a family of musicians and my grandfather was a stand-up comedian during the 50’s in Turkey. My parents didn’t have a nanny for a while and so they took me to almost all rehearsals at either the opera house in Geneva or Lausanne. I can say I grew up in an orchestra pit, as close as one can be to performers and to the drama. The planning of my own career therefore started when I was three years old.

CM: What have been the highlights of your career thus far?
AB: Winning WhatsOnStage’s Best Newcomer To The Operatic Scene in 2014 for my staging of Debussy’s ‘Pelléas Et Mélisande’ was a big highlight, as well as directing ‘Lakmé’ at Opera Holland Park and ‘La Bohème’ at Ankara State Opera.

CM: What aims or ambitions do you have for the future?
AB: I’m currently writing and designing more physical theatre pieces as well as working on developing new ways of communicating through performing arts. I’m aiming to discover new ways of interacting that are more based on instincts and movements than language. I’m also currently researching alternative ways of communication through drama,
movement, music and psychoanalysis.

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this?
AB: I will be directing ‘Pandora’s Box’ by Alex Woolf with The Opera Story at the end of March 2020.

‘The Importance Of Being Earnest’ is on at the Tower Theatre until 18 Jan, see the venue website here for information and to book tickets.

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