Enjoy classic Turkish puppet show Karagöz & Hacivat at the Peckham Sessions Open House

The Yunus Emre Institute London is taking their educational project ‘Karagöz & Hacivat’ to south London to Mountview in Peckham later this month. The project allows students from diverse backgrounds the chance to learn about this traditional form of Turkish culture, while being entertained at the same time.

Over 30 different plays from the ‘Karagöz & Hacivat’ series have been performed for children in both English and Turkish at primary and secondary schools, as well as cultural institutions and museums across the UK, while the workshops allow students a chance to create their versions of Turkiye’s famous shadow puppets.

The shows are brought to life by award-winning theatre actress Ada Burke who trained at the prestigious Karagöz and Hacivat Museum in Bursa. She will be leading this special workshop at Mountview, followed by a performance of one of the famous Karagöz and Hacivat plays.

About traditional Turkish shadow play

Karagöz & Hacivat became one of the most popular forms of entertainment in the Ottoman Empire and was a common feature during the religious month of Ramazan, as well as at festivals, in coffee houses and public squares first in Istanbul and later across all of Anatolia.

Founded in the city of Bursa, the play’s stories always centre on the witty conversations between two central characters Hacivat, a stonemason, and Karagöz, a blacksmith.

Karagöz represents the morals and common sense of society whereas Hacivat represents the educated, well-mannered, smooth-talking aristocracy. Each character tries to persuade and influence the other in their quest to solve everyday problems.

The other characters include Celebi, the charmer; Beberuhi, the dwarf; Zenne, a woman; and Mercan, the spice trader. There’s usually also a doctor, a scrap dealer, a boatman, poets, a handful of licentious women, and a host of other diverse and occasionally shady personalities.

Creating Shadow Play

The white screen on which the play is performed is referred to as the “ayna”, which in Turkish means “mirror”, implying that the stories reflect aspects of people’s lives.

Originally, the screen would measure 2 metres by 2.5 metres, but now it tends to be 80cm high by 110cm wide. On the inner side, below the screen, there is a wooden ledge that holds cymbals, tambourines, canes, pipes and lamps to illuminate the screen.

The characters are between 32cm and 40cm high and are usually made from the skin of camel or cows. The leather is treated by a special method to make them translucent and rigid. Then detail is cut into them with sharp pointed blades called “nevregan”. The designs are painted with Indian ink or root paints.

The shadow puppets are made with moving parts and the separate parts are joined together with cord, nylon thread or catgut.  Finally, rods are added to control the puppets.

The Swing

The Peckham Sessions will focus on a play called The Swing, which is an interactive traditional Turkish Shadow Play that has been fully adapted for children.

Hacivat embarks on a new business hiring out a swing to passers-by and convinces Karagöz to become his less-than-eager business partner. Characters from far and wide give the swing a go, but Hacivat, despite his promises to Karagöz, struggles to make a profit.

Performer Ada Burke’s Biography

Ada Burke is a British/Turkish performer. She studied Acting at The Poor School. In 2013 she won the best actress award at Kosova, Shqip International Film Festival. Ada has been working on voiceover projects and performing in short films, commercials, plays, and corporate projects since 2009.She has previously performed at the Soho Theatre, Arcola Theatre, Hackney Showroom, and Rosemary Theatre.

Award-winning actress Ada Burke performs Karagöz and Hacivat for the Yunus Emre Institute London


She has also taught drama to people of various ages. In addition to this, she was also the recipient of a unique scholarship by Yunus Emre Institute London and had attended a week-long workshop on Turkish Shadow Play (Karagöz & Hacivat) in Bursa, Türkiye, in April 2018, focusing on the traditional Karagöz & Hacivat shadow play.

She has since performed Karagöz & Hacivat in both Turkish and English on behalf of the Institute.

Peckham Sessions Open House

There will be a workshop from 12 noon to 2pm on Sunday 24, where participants will delve into the art of puppetry and craft shadow puppets, specifically ‘Karagöz and Hacivat’. Attendees will have the chance to design their own shadow puppet, master its vocalization, and engage in performances from behind the curtain. The activity is suitable for children aged six and over.

There will be performances of the puppet show after the workshop.

Event Details

Title: Peckham Sessions Open House

Date: Sunday 24 March 2024

Time: 12 noon to 7pm

Venue: Mountview, 120 Peckham Hill Street, London SE15 5JT

Cost: free

Reserving places: to book your child’s place, call the venue on 020 8881 2201. Its box office hours are currently Monday-Friday 9am-8pm and Saturday 9am-3pm. Online booking is 24 hours, but phone and in-person bookings should be made within these times. Tickets are booked subject to Mountview’s terms and conditions. More details are here.