The last shadow puppeteer?

14/03/2014 14:33

Written by Murray Stewart

Mehmet Ertuğ can’t find a suitable apprentice. As the last shadow puppeteer in North Cyprus, that’s a shame, as it could mean his admirable art may face the final curtain on the island.

Not that there are any curtains, for Mehmet is a practitioner of karagöz or shadow theatre. Dating back to time immemorial, this art was introduced to Cyprus in the 16th century by the Turks. Mehmet’s puppets are beautifully made from camel skin and treated with a chemical to make them transparent. Their brightly coloured shadows are then projected on to a white screen, illuminated by a bright light.

Many of the stories have been scripted by Mehmet himself. They have set characters, based around conflict between Karagöz, the commoner, and Hacivat, the educated and slightly pompous scholarly gentleman. The performance is composed of a prologue, dialogue, main play and a short epilogue, and the stories are lightened with a variety of songs and humour.

The use of tambourines, bells and reed pipes, together with a variety of voices, all adds to the fun. Mehmet remembers a pre-television era when itinerant puppeteers would visit the village of his childhood to enthral the children. Now, however, he believes he is the only one left, and his attempts to fi nd a successor have proved to be in vain.

‘A young man will turn up on a Friday and expect to do my Saturday show!’ he says, bemoaning the unreasonable expectations and impatience of youth.

His tiny theatre is on the first floor of the Büyük Han and is set out with around 50 seats. He performs on Saturday mornings at 11.00, or at other times to prebooked groups. He also sells DVDs of his performances, and is a fascinating man to spend a few minutes with. A remnant of a bygone era, sadly soon to disappear forever. Unless, of course, he can find that apprentice.

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