A Sad Story of Racism Turned Showmanship: Hartlepool Maymunu (2023)

“A nation is a society united by illusions about its ancestors and a common hatred of its neighbours.”

I had recently reviewed Wilfrid Lupano‘s comic book version of the legend of The Hartlepool MonkeyHartlepool Maymunu and I liked it very much. There are those who know the legend, for those who don’t, I will tell you about it together with the theatre. The theatre play Hartlepool Monkey, which I came across right after this comic book, was an extra curiosity for me. I watched Hartlepool Monkey, which Tufan Afşar took the legend as a subject and produced it as an original play, in the front row at Ara Sahne in Beyoğlu. Can watching it in the front row taste different? Yes, because it feels like you are right inside the play.

In 1814, we are in Hartlepool, a fishing town in Northern England. The curtain opens and we are greeted at the inn by the innkeeper, the priest, the midwife and an old soldier. The weather is terribly cold, the rain has given way to a storm. In this noise, a fisherman comes with great excitement. The excitement of the fisherman is the French ship washed ashore. The people of Hartlepool hate the French so much. They have never seen a Frenchman in their lives, but their history has made them hate the French. In the morning, they think they’ve caught a soldier washed ashore from the ship. It’s the end of the Napoleonic Wars. The sinking of the French ship during this time increases the people’s fear of invasion. Under the wreckage, there is only one survivor. The British, who have never seen French people before, have put the French in such a different place in their eyes that they think that the monkey wearing a French uniform is French. But these people have never seen a monkey before.

With their hatred for the French, whose language, colour and type they did not know, they captured the monkey. What to do with a prisoner, hang him. What is needed to hang him, a court.

A court is set up, the innkeeper will be a judge for the first time. And his biggest dream is to hang someone. The court decides. He’s a French spy and deserves to be hanged. A girl from the town can never understand the events. Her childish heart and mind can’t accept that a person should be hanged because of his race. She realises that there is something strange about the French soldier. And she starts to investigate. Everyone must be defended, even a spy. The little girl wants to defend the monkey who is thought to be a spy. She wants to convince the people of Hartlepool that he is a monkey. The people of Hartlepool are ignorant, illiterate. They don’t believe what she reads and decide to hang her.

And the gallows are set up. The monkey will be hanged now, he is hanged in the tears of the little girl. The doctor, who lives in the inn and cannot come to the town because of the storm, goes mad when he sees the monkey hanged, cannot bear this ignorance and leaves the town. The people are silent for a short time. One of the people says, “Even if it is a monkey, it is a French monkey”. Suddenly they feel relieved and are mesmerised by killing a Frenchman. The play ends with laughter and singing.

The sad end of racism. A monkey is hanged, for the sake of a race. The sad story of racism turned into showmanship.

“A monkey, mistaken for a man, was hanged
Man in ape’s clothing has taken over.
And the comedy of humanity… goes on and on.”

I cannot pass without mentioning the actors. Especially Erdi Güçlü, who gave life to the monkey, gave a marvellous performance. I sincerely congratulate all the actors. They conveyed this atrocity to us so well. After leaving the play, the only thing that came out of my lips was: “Ignorance is bliss!”

I congratulate Tufan Afşar, both the writer and the director of the play, for conveying this event to us in this way and making us ashamed of being human in a way that freezes our blood.

It was a play that I watched recently and enjoyed. I definitely recommend it to you.

Have a good reading, stay with art and love.


Year of First Performance: 2023
Drama, Tragedy
Written and Directed by:
Tufan Afşar
Costume Design: Dilek Kaplan
Assistants: Aleyna Kartdere, Sude Aksu
Players: Enes İşlek, Erdi Güçlü, Müge Uzun, Şeyma Merç Şafak, Tufan Afşar, Yüşa Taşkın, Zekai Sinan Özer